TOPICS > Science

India Envoy: Obama’s Emissions Pledge ‘Welcome,’ Had Hoped for More

BY Dave Gustafson   November 25, 2009 at 8:15 PM EST

Shyam Saran, special climate envoy to the Indian prime minister; Raveendran/AFP/Getty Images

JUDY WOODRUFF: The White House announced today that President Obama will attend the conference in Copenhagen early in the conference, Dec. 9. What is the reaction by your government to the fact that he will attend?

SHYAM SARAN: special envoy to Indian prime minister on climate change: I think that this is an extremely positive announcement, because there is no doubt that without a very active — and I would say enthusiastic — role by the United States of America these negotiations will not yield the kind of the kind of results that we are looking for. So we have already said in the past we welcome the fact that president Obama has announced that climate change is going to be at the top of the U.S. agenda. He has made a very major effort in mobilizing the legislation on climate change. True, we would have hoped that the United States of America would have been more ambitious than what it has indicated, but nevertheless the fact that United States of America is now taking a very active part in these negotiations, and the announcement that despite the fact that the legislation is not through, the United States will be able to come with numbers for the conference, this is a very good sign because it will also encourage the other countries to make their contribution.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And in fact what the White House announced today is that President Obama is prepared to put on the table — they say — a U.S. emission-reduction target in the range of 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and then various other levels for years beyond that. What is your reaction?

SHYAM SARAN: Again, we welcomed this. We would have hoped that the United States of America would be more ambitious. As you know other developed countries like Europe, they have signed on to something like 20 percent cut by 2020 with 1990 as the base year. And the U.S. figure as you know is with reference to 2005. But we have to take account of the fact that for the last several years in fact there was not much focus on cutting emissions in this country. So to the extent that the U.S. is making a late start, perhaps we should show our understanding, but for other countries to really improve the level of their ambition, what the U.S. does becomes a very critical factor. But I would say that we certainly welcome the announcement which has been made.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And as the White House points out this target is in line with current legislation, so they are using that as a rationale — as a reason — for the targets being as they are.

SHYAM SARAN: The U.S. has domestic political compulsions. So does India, so we understand as a democracy that you know the political process is a pretty complicated process in our countries, so we do understand that. But I think what I am trying to put across is that the U.S. itself has been saying that we are facing a very, very urgent challenge. You know your energy secretary for example has often said that if we do not take urgent action you know we are very close to the tipping point. If that is the assessment that our best scientists are making then obviously it stands to reason that we need to do much more. This is something that is very self evident. What I can assure you is that, as far as India is concerned we will do whatever is possible within the limitation of our own resources. Our developmental challenges are very complicated. for us climate change is not just a separate issue — it is intermixed with our developmental issues itself, so how we balance you know the problem of climate change with the other stresses and strains that the country is going through in this process of social and economic transformation, we would hope that there is some understanding of that challenge that we face.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What would you have preferred that the U.S. be able to do at this point? You said more ambitious.

SHYAM SARAN: You know, I don’t want to limit myself to just the aspect of emissions reduction. That is one very important part of the exercise. The USA still remains the chief source of technological innovation. It has a very vibrant entrepreneurial class. Now if that technological resource that the country processes could be harnessed to bring forth the kind of innovation that is required and transformational technologies for the future, it could make a huge contribution. So it is not merely emission reduction, there is a lot more that the United States can offer.

SHYAM SARAN: Both of us believe — the United States and India — that No. 1, climate change and energy security, these are two sides of the same coin. Because unless you make a strategic shift from your current reliance on fossil fuels to a pattern of growth which is more and more based on renewable sources of energy on clean sources of energy such as nuclear energy you would not be able to meet this challenge. So it is an interlinked challenge and I think that recognition is important both our countries have the same approach. Secondly, both countries believe that in meeting this challenge technology is going to be a very key factor and having recognized that therefore there is a strong effort on the part of both countries to try and make sure that Copenhagen comes out with a practical and effective technology cooperation package. I think these are important contributions by both countries.