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India, US activate backroom talks on climate change

September 29, 2015 13:02 IST

The series of meetings of the US official in Delhi, including with officials in the PMO, have sparked interest in the Indian side to pull off the bilateral agreement which could cement a positive approach from both the countries for the official UN climate change negotiations in Paris.

Days before the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the US began a serious attempt to seal a bilateral climate change agreement with India.

The US President Barack Obama’s senior advisor in the White House, Brian Deese, was sent on a special one-day mission to Delhi to touch base with an array of top officials in the NDA government to look at the possibility of such a bilateral agreement on climate change technologies.  

The series of meetings of the US official in Delhi, including with officials in the PMO, have sparked interest in the Indian side to pull off the bilateral agreement which could cement a positive approach from both the countries for the official UN climate change negotiations in Paris starting November 30.  

Ram Madhav, National General Secretary of BJP, confirmed meeting the US official upon the latter’s visit in the first week of September to Delhi. “Yes we met. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken the lead on the subject of climate change.

Along with the US we hope to steer the Paris agreement towards a more equitable and ambitious deal,” he said speaking with Business Standard.

“We impart as much importance to the Paris climate change agreement as the nuclear deal, I would say,” he added.  

Other sources in the know confirmed to Business Standard that the meetings in Delhi were to be followed up with talks in Washington between Indian ministers and officials with officials from the US during the Prime Minister’s trip.

They said climate change and issues pertaining to technology were slated to be discussed between the two heads of states.

The US embassy in Delhi did not respond to queries about talks on the issue between the two countries but said it could do so at a later stage.  

The agreement, if it sails through before the Paris round of climate negotiations, would help India achieve a bilateral understanding with US on future climate change technologies, the sources said though they did not wish to elaborate more on the contents of the possible agreement.

They also did not reveal how far the talks on the agreement had progressed over the past three weeks since the US official’s visit.  

Officials said the agreement on clean technologies between the two countries, in tandem with India’s ambitious targets for the Paris agreement, would help in showcasing the government’s positive approach to the issue of climate change as well as buffer the country against the possibility of a Paris agreement that restricts India’s developmental goals.  

India sees some of the proposals for the Paris agreement from the EU and its allies as inimical to national red-lines though there are also major sticking points where EU and the US with their allies sit on one side of the debate and China, India and other developing countries sit on the other.  

“There is a continuous bilateral dialogue between US and India on the issue of climate change and the two heads of states would have two more occasions in November to meet and discuss this further — at the G20 talks in Turkey and then the East Asia Summit at Kuala Lumpur,” one of the sources said.

“We hope to develop common understandings with the US that shall protect our developmental space even as we take an ambitious step forward to address climate change. There are concerns such as historical responsibility and technology transfer that have to be addressed,” he added.  

India plans to announce an ambitious target for improving the greenhouse gas intensity of its economy by 35 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, as part of which it plans to build a capacity of 350 Gw of solar and wind power.

Indian experts point out that such an ambitious target will need technological inputs to be workable.

The Union Environment and Forests Minister Prakash Javadekar speaking at a meeting organised by Observer Research Foundation on September 23, with the UK minister for energy, had said, “India is ambitious on solar energy. But storage and transmission continue to be problem areas. We need cheaper solutions.”

Officials speaking to Business Standard said these two clearly were areas of research and technology where the US and India as well as other countries could come together for solutions.  

The US President has prioritised climate change as domestic and international concerns for the US to play a central role in.

As part of this the US and China have now put out two joint statements on furthering climate change negotiations.

The first joint announcement with China provided the basis of the targets that the two countries have committed under the Paris agreement.

Language from the joint statement also found its way in to the formal UN negotiating text in the Lima talks last year-end.

The language brokered between the two was able to tone down differences between the developing and developed world on the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities being reflected in the Paris agreement.  

One of officials said such an agreement could also help “dissipate misconceived notions” that there were little common ground between US and India on the issue of climate change. “We are working with all partner countries to produce an ambitious result at Paris.

This could also aid the process,” he said.  

While India, China and the US share some common ideas about the shape of the Paris agreement there remain areas where India and China do not share the US point of view, such as issues of finance, a uniform method of reviewing targets under the Paris agreement and differentiation between developed and developing countries in other elements of the talks.

The second joint statement between the US and China on climate change could provide language that both the countries may advocate to resolve some of the differences in the Paris agreement, experts believe.  

Climate Agenda

Furtive Indo-US backroom talks on Paris Climate Change agreement and bilateral deal

US sends senior official to Delhi ahead of PM Modi’s visit to stitch a deal

Bilateral deal could be on clean technologies, reflect on Paris agreement too

India hopes to bridge gap with US to buffer against a Paris agreement that restricts country’s developmental space

Two more meetings between Obama and Modi in November to help cement relations better on the subject

Nitin Sethi
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