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The Associated Press November 27, 2010, 9:09AM ET

India seeks to resolve climate disputes at Cancun

India has offered two proposals for the U.N. climate summit in Cancun, Mexico, in hopes of redefining its global image and helping to resolve disputes that have stymied agreement on curbing greenhouse gas emissions, its environment minister said Saturday.

Expectations for a treaty mandating significant emissions cuts have dimmed after last year's conference in Copenhagen failed to reach a consensus on how to divvy up responsibility for global warming.

No one expects the two-week Cancun summit starting Monday will resolve the core conflicts, but India hopes to offer a middle ground for smaller deals that can be built on in the future.

"India has been seen to be obstructionist and petulant" in the past, Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said in an interview Saturday. "I'd like to think that perception is different now."

The two Indian proposals, obtained by The Associated Press, address the sticky subjects of monitoring emissions cuts and sharing environmentally friendly technologies with poor and developing nations.

They lay out solutions for framework agreements that leave the most contentious issues for later debate.

India's role in promoting the compromises in Cancun has much to do with its wider foreign policy ambition of playing a larger role on the world stage. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has lobbied for a permanent U.N. Security Council seat, and floated ideas at global forums for spending national reserves on infrastructure projects that could boost everyone's wealth and reduce poverty.

In climate negotiations, Ramesh said, Singh specifically told him to be a problem solver and "change the perception on India."

"I have gone out of my way to build bridges between people," he said. "An India that is seeking a global role must also be conscious of its global responsibility, to be proactive and constructive, to engage with everybody. We are a developing nation. But we don't want to engage in polemical debates."

That polemic in the past has pitted industrialized countries against developing nations, and prevented the world's top three polluters from committing to curb emissions.

The United States, accounting for 20 percent of world emissions, refused to join the 1997 Kyoto Protocol -- a binding U.N. pact to curb emissions that many nations hope to renew in Cancun -- without developing nations making similar commitments. China, which accounts 22 percent of emissions, India, with 5.5 percent, and other emerging economies say they are still digging themselves out of poverty and will not commit by treaty to limiting growth.

The impasse prevented nations from reaching a binding deal in Copenhagen last year, and nearly led to a breakdown in a U.N. climate conference in April over how to proceed with the talks.

"We still have economic interests to defend. We don't want external barriers imposed on our economic growth. And we want developed countries to do more," Ramesh said. "The most unsustainable lifestyle in the world is the U.S. lifestyle, but that's for the U.S. to decide. We can only tell them as friends."

The U.S. and others have also demanded developing nations submit to international audits to ensure they meet emissions targets, something China has refused.

Ramesh called a monitoring resolution "the crux of all issues at Cancun," with the U.S. and other developed nations refusing to move ahead on other agreements without it. "The issues have been linked, that's the reality. So let us try to solve this problem."

India is proposing a framework for accountability by which nations do their own reporting to U.N. climate authorities, which would then review and assess the reports. There would be no punishments for violations, suggesting targets would be voluntary rather than legally binding, but includes developing nations in the rubric of commitments.

Industrialized countries would detail their emissions, progress and future plans in reaching emissions targets as well as how much funding they have contributed for poor nations. Developing countries would offer similar details on their emissions and targets.

India's other proposal, toward facilitating a system for sharing technologies between rich and poor countries, is designed to start freeing up funding and technologies for poor nations that need help coping with a warmer world -- another key pillar of a climate change agreement sought in Cancun. These projects include building barriers against rising seas, shifting crops threatened by drought, building water supply and irrigation systems, and improving health care to deal with diseases.

Developing countries like China and India also need help moving to low-carbon energy systems, such as solar and wind power, and away from the fossil fuels whose emissions are blamed for global warming.

Experts agree, however, that the issue of sharing patented technologies cannot be resolved before Cancun.

India -- which has classed itself among the most vulnerable to climate change -- suggests the priority should be in helping poor nations adapt to the affects of warmer temperatures by sharing scientific know-how for improving water supply, health care and agriculture. The more divisive talks on emissions-cutting technologies should be left for future debate.

Industrialized nations in Copenhagen agreed to set a goal of $100 billion in annual climate finance by the year 2020.

The Indian proposal for Cancun, discussed during a climate conference in New Delhi earlier this month, envisions setting up a governing body by June to lead projects in developing nations and manage the sharing of technologies across borders.

There would have to be more discussion on resolving intellectual property issues -- the main obstacle that has blocked progress in the past. Industrialized nations say reducing patent protections would undermine financial incentives for innovation, while developing countries they cannot afford to pay for technologies needed to meet emissions targets.

But with a basic mechanism in place, as India proposes, less controversial technologies and funding could begin to flow to needy nations.

"If there is one area India can show leadership in the world, it is the environment," Ramesh said, noting that India's Indira Gandhi was the only other head of state to attend the first U.N. environmental summit in 1972 in Stockholm apart from the Swedish prime minister.

"When I took this job in May 2009, the prime minister's one line of advice to me was 'India has not caused the problem of global warming. Make sure we are part of the solution.'"

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