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Hillary in Indian Climate Change Standoff

Posted by: Mehul Srivastava on July 20, 2009

Talk about a rough start. On a three-day visit to India, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton jostled with India’s environment minister for her suggestion that India consider curbs on its carbon emissions.

Speaking on a tour of a so-called “green building” in Gurgaon, the boom-town-gone-silent on the outskirts of the Indian capital, Clinton offered a thought on India’s role in the efforts against global warming. After admiring the double-glassed windows that kept the building cool in the summers, she admitted that the U.S. had made mistakes in terms of climate change policy. “There is no question that developed countries like mine must lead on this issue and for our part, under President Obama, we are not only acknowledging our contributions to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, we are taking steps to reverse its ill effects,” Clinton said.

Then, she added this, as a reminder to what she felt were India’s responsibilities. “It is essential for major developing countries like India to also lead because over 80 percent of the growth in future emissions will be from developing countries,” she said.

Innocuous enough, right? But it raised the hackles of Jairam Ramesh, the Indian minister for forests and environment. “There is simply no case for the pressure” that the U.S. was exerting for legal caps on emissions for developing countries, he said. “As if this pressure was not enough, we also face the threat of carbon tariffs on our exports to countries such as yours.”

And to make sure his point across, he added later on that India looks “suspiciously” upon the commitment and motivation of western countries that have failed to live up to previous climate treaties. (Remember the Kyoto Protocol? Anybody? Anybody?)

An over-reaction, you say? But then, there’s always the back-story to consider. First of all, both India and China have been adamant about one fact – if the U.S. and Europe faced no limitations on their ability to industrialize, then it would be hypocrisy to impose the same limitations on developing nations.

More recently, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that imposes tariffs on goods imported from countries that don’t pledge to a reduction of greenhouse gases by 2020.

And to, so to say, heat up the affair even more, both India and China are expected to find themselves in a corner later this year, when 180 nations meet later this year in Copenhagen to discuss global warming under the U.N.’s auspices.

So take these comments – this ceremonial sword-rattling – as just another stage in the global realpolitik. India’s argument, unconvincing to environmentalists, is its per capita emissions are amongst the lowest in the world, so to a large extent, its responsibilities should be low too. True, but then, the country has over a billion people, and is amongst the fastest growing in the world, which Clinton tried to point out in her defense. “But what is happening now,” she said, is that those rates of emissions “are going up, and dramatically.”

And also, as in all diplomatic encounters, the setting and the company makes all the difference. She was flanked by Todd Stern, Mrs Clinton envoy on Climate Change, whose presence on her team raised eyebrows, with oversensitive Indian newspapers registering surprise on his inclusion. And she went out of her way to visit, and then compare the “green building”, constructed by none other than a tobacco manufacturer, as the next Taj Mahal.

To fully understand the impassioned Indian reactions, remember that India and China are being slowly wooed to join the WTO as full partners, a process that all parties have found rancorous. India let the Doha round of talks last year collapse when the U.S. insisted on the removals of support prices for farmers, the largest constituent for India’s ruling Congress party.

But as part of the wooing process, the West has often indicated that it wants more than changes in subsidies and taxes – it wants cooperation on climate change, which Indian and Chinese officials point out, was a creation of western excess.

As a peace offering, India agreed to an “aspirational” limit on global emissions earlier this year, but has made clear that if the western world wants India to roll back emissions, it has to share in the economic cost that that decision brings.

Clinton made nice too, saying that “of course,” nobody wants to “no one wants to, in any way, stall or undermine the economic growth that is necessary to lift millions of more people out of poverty,” according to a transcript of the press conference.

So, as usually happens at these sort of things, nothing was settled, everybody bared their teeth and drew a line in the constantly shifting sand about their intentions, and retreated back to their corners. India still has no interest in agreeing to legal caps on emissions, and the U.S. registered how earnestly it wanted to that to change.

Monday, though, for those keeping track of the visit – and the accompanying fireworks – will likely be a day of carrots and happy handshakes. Clinton finishes off meetings with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and is expected to announce a few agreements that might make U.S.-India trade more robust. One includes a much awaited end-use-monitoring agreement that might make it easier for American defense contractors to pursues the tens billions of dollars the Indian military is spending, and the other is expected to be an announcement of U.S.-private-sector-built nuclear power plants in India.

Reader Comments


July 20, 2009 10:20 AM

The US is loosing it. And in the process, it is loosing friends. If the US pressures its friends more (the EU is not a friend), once Russia, EU and China ditch the dollar, it's economy will collapse and the US will not find anyone standing behind her to support the dollar economy.

Gaylon Thompson

July 20, 2009 11:20 AM

Is this writer a professional journalist or an un-educated blogger that BusinessWeek has procured as a corespondant? Complete with run-on sentences, clumsy tense changes, beginning sentences with "and", posing meaningless questions, redundancy and a host of other academic blunders, it appears that journalistic integrity or at least your basic writing standards have sunk below what one would expect from a high school newspaper.


July 20, 2009 11:34 AM

yes,what is new with so called "developed countries' not walk the talk, and again its about time US minds its own business, clean up its act first in the so called campaign clean environment..and again the govt of US is always known in for its hypcorisy. Amen


July 20, 2009 11:47 AM

Yes, the West did most of the polluting. The West also woke up to the fact that pollution was making us sick and destroying the planet, so we passed tough laws on ourselves to stop the pollution. The multinationals relocated their polluting plants to countries without emissions controls. This creates jobs in the third world, but also contributes to their health problems, such as the rise in cancer rates in China. If global warming is real, do India and China want to be the ones who dig everyone's graves, including their own? They need to get serious about environmental reforms before we all die. The West is trying, but it's hard to muster the will when you see the others won't do their part. It becomes a vicious circle. Someone has to be the grown-up and go first.


July 20, 2009 12:01 PM

Why couldn't the author use some actual figures to back his arguments? Because the arguments would fall flat.
Current Indian per capita carbon footprint : 1/11th of US

Future(2031) Indian per capita carbon footprint if India grows at rate of 8% :
1/7th of US.

Personally I feel everybody should act green but no matter how you look at numbers : it is the developed economies that are contributing more pollution and they are also in a position to afford costly actions which developing(they are still poor) economies just cannot afford.


July 20, 2009 3:06 PM

Is anybody else out there sick and tired of our so called leaders running all over the world apologizing for the United States?
In the first place, India and China have no intention of signing on to any treaty that stops or slows their economic growth.
The "oil age" will be with us for the next 50 to 75 years, regardless of how much "alternative energy" is developed through government supports.
Our manufacturing base is energy intensive, so in the midst of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, the government wants to impose onerous energy taxes.
Northern Mexico is going to become the manufacturing and medical center for the North American continent in a few years.
Mexico, India and China are not going to commit economic suicide.


July 20, 2009 3:41 PM

Obama “Under my plan of a cap-and-trade system, electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket . . . because I’m capping greenhouse gases, coal power plants, natural gas, you name it . . . Whatever the plants were, whatever the industry was, they would have to retrofit their operations. That will cost money, and they will pass that [cost] on to consumers.’’

Why would India want Epensive Green energy when it is sitting on mountain of free coal in its back yard? Any Economy needs cheap energy to grow, when they have 100s of million people to pull out of REAL poverty.


July 20, 2009 6:10 PM

Sorry to hear that Hillary Clinton struck out on pollution controls by India but hey all is not lost!!! Letters need to be written and sent to that other white man that has evidently solved global warming....Big AL Gore. Does anyone have an extra sweater I could borrow for a few hundred years?


July 20, 2009 9:23 PM

I always thought it was funny that the Republicans were better friends of the biggest democracy in the world..I guess it all boils down to self-interest, and the Repubs were interested in defense policy.

The US has 2% of the world's population, and yet, they produce 20% of the world's emissions, industrial and toxic waste, nuclear waste, and we use about 20% of the paper products. Given not only our enormous appetites, but also the waste and inefficiencies (read: high-meat diet takes 20 times the grains to produce than a vegetarian one) in our food system, we use a ridiculous amount of food, too.

The US, being rich and powerful, is in the best position to move towards a greener economy. I stated the same argument in the early bush years, that the US must set an example and also nurture the technology for a green economy, or else we will have no bargaining power when it's someone elses turn to industrialize.

Taxing emissions is a painful process, but it must be done. First, the government should figure out where current greenhouse gas emissions come from, and decide what they want to regulate. Once they figure out a good way to measure and tax it(ie, taxing oil instead of miles driven), they should gradually introduce a low tax rate and see what happens. Then, they can increase the energy tax and coincidentally lower Corporate taxes...amybe energy taxes can be levied on a gradient, based on how efficient a given company's technologies are?

TOMW, you are right about one thing: oil will continue to be a large part of our economy for years to come, because it IS THE EASIEST FORM OF ENERGY. Thus, we must develop a variety of alternative energies so that they can gradually replace oil in situations where they are more efficient, like windpower in Texas and the midwest, or geothermal in Alaska.

There are so many simple technologies we could implement to reduce our industrial waste and carbon emissions; however, there is currently no motivation to do so. If sending people to the moon is valuable economically (despite having no practical applications), then surely developing clean technologies are a worthwhile venture.

Ramesh Thapar

July 21, 2009 1:25 AM

The climate change argument is being used to deny India and China their right to develop and lift their people out of poverty. The last desperate gasp of Western colonialism!

Why bother?

July 21, 2009 3:47 AM

Why bother climate change? After all, global warmining will benefit Russia and Canada greatly. On the other hand, countries like India, China, Australia and Africa are supposed to be biggest losers. Ironically, these countries are at the forefront against global carbon reduction. Whey the rest should bother for them?


July 21, 2009 9:59 AM

India needs to control its pollution levels more than anyone else, since it will soon have worlds largest population at 1.5 billion+. If India is not serious about its pollution levels, it is their citizens who will suffer from respiratory diseases, it is their poor who will not have access to clean drinking water. Its disappointing that the environment minister does not realise this. Limiting emission norms does not necessary mean limiting growth. You could for ex. ban production of power consuming incandencent lamps, improve road conditions to reduce fuel consumption, etc. These actions do not limit India's GDP growth.

Anil Kumar

July 21, 2009 11:08 AM

The western world has exploited and reaped all the resources of the earth and developed in the last 60 years using the advategeous possition they got from World wars and Industrial revolution.And they did all the harm to the mother earth,they can.Now when it comes to developing nations to lift their life standards,the remember Green Issues.If Developing countries has to develop eco-friendly industriliazation,then it should be done with the western countries money...whihc they looted so far.


July 21, 2009 1:31 PM

"India let the Doha round of talks last year collapse when the U.S. insisted on the removals of support prices for farmers"

- I think the author of this article should have mentioned the crazy support prices that the US has for corn, soy, and other commodities. Of course, removal of *those* support prices does not need mention!


July 21, 2009 4:42 PM

Lets look at the numbers. Facts that Mr. Srivastava respectfully ignored:
US: 6.05 Billion tons Annual CO2 Emission (22.2%)
European Union: 4.00 Billion tons Annual CO2 Emission (14.7%)
India: 1.34 Billion tons Annual CO2 Emission (4.9%)

US: 20.4 tons per person per year
India: 1.2 tons per person per year

Since early 1950s, US scientific community has adamantly warned US lawmakers about US contributions to global warming. US just like the writer (of this article) respectfully ignored those warning.

INDIA…Ignore the warnings... RESPECTFULLY


July 21, 2009 6:18 PM

"India let the Doha round of talks last year collapse when the U.S. insisted on the removals of support prices for farmers"

lol if India gets coned into this they will destroy their agro food self sufficency with western subsidised food. Then boom 1.2 billion people dependent on "Western Food" . Like mexicans that run here Indian substience farmers out of work in this process cannot go anywhere. Why is this good for India ????

" end-use-monitoring agreement " They pay full price the "Buy Price" but only get "RENT" . After they upgrade they got to send back the things they "BOUGHT" .lol

Carbon Control - Another BS created to CAP devloping countrys growth by making their energy "EXPENSIVE" ie they no longer can compete. WHY WOULD THEY WANT THIS BAG OF SCAMS?

Why bother?

July 21, 2009 8:59 PM

Let's have more carbon emission so that India become barren desert, a billion people starve. This may be the things that Indians want or simply don't have the intelligence to understand the link between climate change and their future?


July 24, 2009 9:23 AM

WHY BOTHER someone asks? Vitamin "M" MONEY

Lets make this simple

WEST created this mess but they want EAST to fix it.

WEST created this mess but they want EAST to fix it - with WEST's technology

Sound familiar anyone?

The end game,another American decade into making, the next boom, the next housing boom



July 29, 2009 1:13 PM

Eh, the two faced "eco-friendly" third world can screetch all they like. But they still have to export to the U.S. and Europe :) And when the U.S. and E.U. imposes carbon tax, there is nothing these two faced Kyoto Accord signatories can do about it :p

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