In an interview with the Guardian, Miliband and development secretary Douglas Alexander said India would not have to reduce emissions by 2020 – the year when the European Union has offered to cut by a third its greenhouse gas output – given that Delhi was “not doing things on a ‘business as usual basis'”.
“India has very stretching targets on solar energy, on renewable energy … it has big ambitions on energy efficiency … I think India wants to be a deal maker not a deal breaker in Copenhagen,” said Miliband.
India already generates 8% of its power from renewables – more than the UK. It says it aims to have 20,000MW of solar energy in place by 2020 and make fuel efficiency standards mandatory for cars from 2011 as part of a package to reduce the nation’s carbon footprint.
After Clinton’s visit, Delhi accused the United States of applying pressure on India to curb its greenhouse gas emissions. The United States wants big developing countries such as India and China, whose emissions are quickly rising as their economies grow, to agree to rein them in before Washington commits to any global deal.
Today the Indian government released a series of studies showing the country’s greenhouse gas emissions would continue to rise – citing a range between 2.8 and 5.0 tonnes of carbon dioxide per person in 2031. The government estimates India’s current per-capita emissions at 1.2 tonnes – significantly below the current global average of 4 tonnes.
“Even two decades from now, India’s per-capita greenhouse gas emissions will be below the global average of 25 years earlier,” said the Indian minister.
Although Miliband welcomed the report, the British minister said the negotiations in the run up to Copenhagen centred on when “emissions in different countries peak past 2020”.
Miliband highlighted July’s L’Aquila agreement – where the world’s richest nations reached a symbolic deal with India, China and other major polluters on the need to limit global warming to within 2 degrees centigrade to prevent catastrophic climate change.
Despite this pledge Miliband stopped short of calling of emission reduction targets for big, emerging economies such as India after 2020. “That is one of the questions we have got to resolve… we want to work with India”.
Another key area of difference revolves around carbon capture and storage technologies that Britain has promoted to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Indian officials have complained about the cost of such plants, which aim to capture carbon dioxide created by industry and pump them deep underground.
However Miliband pointed to India’s rising reliance on coal as a source of power as a reason why the Asian nation might embrace the technology. “India seems to be most interested in solar technology. Let me be honest with you there is no solution to the problem of climate change that does not solve the problem of coal.”
Campaigners said British ministers’ softly-softly approach showed the west had “come a long way”. “I think they are beginning to understand the ground realities in India. You have to talk to each other not at each other,” said Sunita Narain of Delhi’s Centre for Science and the Environment.
However Narain said that there was still some way to go. She said industrial nations must curb their own pollution and provide funding and technology to help developing nations before the latter are asked to set limits that could crimp their economic expansion.
Douglas Alexander, Britain’s development secretary, pointed out that Gordon Brown had proposed $100bn (£62bn) a year for a global green fund that could “unlock new sources of financing”.