Matt Wade, New Delhi
FOR many Indians, the global debate on climate change is all about justice. There is a perception that rich countries are pushing for a carbon emissions deal that will let their people live in relative affluence, while tens of millions in countries like India remain trapped in relative poverty.
When the Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, unveiled his country's climate-change action plan last year he said everyone in the world deserved "an equal share of the planetary atmospheric space" and a "convergence" of per capita emissions was the only equitable basis for a global compact. The average Indian is responsible for a fraction of the greenhouse gas emissions of the average Westerner.
A story on the front page of The Times of India recently shows why many Indians are suspicious when rich countries push New Delhi to agree to greenhouse gas emission targets. It reported a forthcoming World Bank study which found that if the US replaced all its gas-guzzling four-wheel-drives with small, fuel-efficient cars, 1.6 billion poor people now living in the dark could get electricity without an increase in the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.
It is a comparison that resonates in a country where about half the population - more than 500 million people - do not have access to power. There is a strong political disincentive for the Government to commit to targets at this stage because it might appear to lock the average Indian into a lower standard of living than the average Westerner.
The most tangible target Singh has offered is to pledge that his country's per capita CO2 emissions will never exceed the average of developing countries. This is more of a challenge than a commitment because it puts the onus on Western countries to make huge per capita cuts before India has to do anything.
Chandra Bhushan, of the Centre for Science and Environment in Delhi, says that the Government has undertaken to implement an ambitious domestic plan for the mitigation of climate change, introduced a year ago, no matter what other countries do. But any additional international commitments will have to be supported by finance and technology from developed countries.
"India is saying that we are doing everything we can domestically to reduce CO2 emissions with our own resources but any international commitment that India has to take that deviates from business as usual has to be funded by developed countries," he said.
Bhushan believes unconvincing commitments and promises made by the word's richest countries mean India does not feel under much pressure to do more.
"Expecting India to puts its cards on the table does not make any sense," he said. "If developed countries really took the lead and announced big binding cuts in emissions by 2020 it would put a lot of pressure on developing countries to do more but right now that is not happening."