This Weekend’s News: India, beyond the Party Crashers

This Thanksgiving weekend, with newspapers light on news and heavy on ads, the biggest story was clearly the crashing of the White House state dinner for Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. While this news was quite important for its revealing of a Secret Service lapse and for its gossip value, more important news regarding India remained somewhat under the radar.

Prime Minister Singh and President Obama released a joint statement, and the wording of its section on “sustainable global development and a clean energy future” is notable in stating that “energy security, food security, [and] climate change are interlinked” in its very first line. At least a quarter of India’s people live well below the poverty line, and its agricultural production could be severely hampered by the effects of climate change, making this phraseology particularly interesting. David Biello provided a bit more detail on the new U.S.-India natural security cooperation initiatives in Scientific American on Friday:

[T]he U.S. National Renewable Energy Lab will partner with India's Solar Energy Centre and Centre for Wind Energy Technology to map potential, develop technology and, ultimately, aid in its deployment—potentially allowing rural Indians to "leapfrog" directly to distributed solar energy, without the need for costly transmission lines. And there will also be enhanced cooperation in agriculture—helping to revitalize the Green Revolution in India that dramatically reduced starvation there in the 20th century.

After his U.S. visit, however, Prime Minister Singh took up a more pointed tone for the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Trinidad and Tobago, where his strong statements indicated that coming to climate agreements with India at Copenhagen may not be a walk in the park. As reported in Hindustan Times and countless other (predominantly non-U.S.) sources, Singh declared that “Climate Change is becoming the pretext for pursuing protectionist policies under a green label. This would be contrary to the UNFCCC…and a violation of the WTO…India and other developing countries will strongly resist this.”

Singh also reportedly noted that “most important from [India’s] perspective, is the need to ensure an equitable outcome corresponding to the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.” This is not inconsistent with the U.S.-India joint statement from the Prime Minister’s U.S. trip, though it states a bit more subtly that “India and the United States, consistent with their national circumstances, resolved to take significant national mitigation actions that will strengthen the world's ability to combat climate change” (emphasis mine). In CNAS’s climate change negotiations future scenario/war game, which we held last July with representatives from India, China, the European Union and the United States, we learned even in the game planning phase that this was one of the stickiest points in negotiating with India. One invitee from India would not participate because he so adamantly disagreed with our characterization of India as a top emitter – in other words, if we counted emissions per capita, India should not be one of the four top-emitting parties represented in our exercise. As Sharon Burke described in her findings from the game:

For India and China, it will come down to economic growth. Throughout the game, both teams never wavered in their drive to balance any agreement with economic growth; future consequences of climate change were never truly factored in. The U.S. and EU teams likewise acknowledged the prominence of economic growth in their own domestic contexts, but acknowledged that they would have to transfer to or share technology with China and India.

It appears that for the foreseeable future, financial assistance and tech transfers will remain at the heart of climate cooperation, if Prime Minister Singh’s statements of the past week are any indication. With its quickly rising emissions and its understandable focus on development, should be on India for the Copenhagen negotiations and beyond.

The Week AheadThere is an abundance of great events around town this week, a few of which we’ll be covering on the blog. If you act fast, SAIS is holding a meeting at 12:30 p.m. today on “China's Civil Nuclear Energy Plans and Their Implications.” Wednesday morning the New America Foundation brings us a conference called “Minding the Gap: Where Will President Obama's Energy and Climate Policies Take Us in Four to Eight Years?,” and that afternoon CSIS will host a discussion on the IEA’s 2009 World Energy Outlook. The House and Senate also have committee hearings this week on greenhouse gas reductions and climate science.