- The Washington Times - Monday, July 20, 2009

NEW DELHI | Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton struggled Sunday to find a silver lining in India’s rejection of legally binding carbon-dioxide-emissions reductions, saying a plan can be devised to fight climate change and boost India’s economic development at the same time.

Addressing one of the most contentious issues between New Delhi and Washington on the first day of her visit to the Indian capital, Mrs. Clinton tried to focus on the positive aspects of India’s environmental record, such as its interest in clean energy.

Her Indian hosts, however, got straight to the point.

“We are simply not in a position to take on legally binding emissions reduction targets,” India’s minister of environment, Jairam Ramesh, told reporters, standing beside the secretary at New Delhi’s ITC Green Center, which is designed to use maximum natural light with windows that keep out heat, reducing the need for air conditioning.

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India and China are leading a group of developing countries opposed to Western calls for specific targets in a treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol when it expires in 2012. A major summit is scheduled for early December in Copenhagen, where the United States and other developed countries hope to make significant progress.

Aware that no global treaty can work without commitment from the world’s biggest polluters, Mrs. Clinton tried to convince India that such progress can be achieved without sacrificing their development needs.

“I’m very confident the United States and India can devise a plan that will dramatically change the way we produce, consume and conserve energy and in the process spark an explosion of new investment and millions of jobs,” she said.

She did not elaborate. A senior State Department official traveling with Mrs. Clinton said she did not have a specific plan in mind and that her confidence was based on various ideas she has heard on both sides.

While conceding that developed countries have harmed the environment, particularly during their industrialization, Mrs. Clinton said developing nations must not repeat their “mistakes.”

“No one wants to stop or undermine the economic growth that is necessary to lift millions out of poverty,” she said. “The United States does not and will not do anything that will limit India’s economic progress. The challenge is to create a global framework that recognizes the different needs and responsibilities of developed and developing countries alike.”

Mrs. Clinton said that, despite the differences between the U.S. and India, “we have many more areas of agreement than perhaps had been appreciated.”

Mr. Ramesh added that India was not “oblivious” of its responsibilities.

“It is possible for us to have an international agreement that recognizes formal but differentiated responsibilities,” he said.

The senior State Department official, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter, said that “many countries are willing to do more than they are willing to agree to do” and that the Indians “want to get a deal done.”

The Obama administration has made combating climate change a high priority, and Mrs. Clinton has appointed a special envoy, Todd Stern, to try to make progress in time for the Copenhagen summit. Mr. Stern is accompanying the secretary on her trip, as he did during her visit to Beijing in February.

“We need a successful outcome in Copenhagen later this year. We are under no illusion this will be easy,” Mrs. Clinton said.

Evan A. Feigenbaum, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, said that climate change has emerged as the most pressing issue on which the U.S. and India disagree.

“The administration’s challenge will be to manage these disagreements toward compromise and, ultimately, consensus without finger-pointing or the old acrimony re-emerging,” he said.

Bilateral initiatives, such as an investment treaty or a renewable energy partnership, could help both sides address concerns they have with each other, Mr. Feigenbaum said.

“India worries about restrictions on technology export licenses, rising American protectionism,” while the U.S. complains about high investment caps in India, he said. “A rich bilateral agenda on renewable energy, trade and nonproliferation could provide ballast in the face of disagreements in multilateral negotiations.”

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