Monday, June 30, 2008

India prime minister unveils plan to combat climate change


NEW DELHI (AP) - India's prime minister announced a plan Monday to combat global warming by focusing on renewable energy, even as he stood by a refusal to commit to greenhouse gas emission targets that could stall the country's economic growth.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh laid out an eight-point plan that he said would enable India to shift away from fossil fuels and embrace solar energy and sustainable development without sacrificing the rapid economic growth of recent years.

"Our vision is to make India's economic development energy-efficient," Singh said, releasing the National Action Plan. "But I also believe that ecologically sustainable development need not be in contradiction to achieving our growth objectives."

The plan will focus on a host of issues including water conservation, protecting the Himalayan ecosystem and sustainable agriculture, he said. He gave no cost estimates, timetable or specific benchmarks for implementation.

India's has the world's fourth-largest emissions of the greenhouse gases blamed for global climate change. With a soaring economy that many predict will continue to grow in coming years, the government says energy consumption could quadruple over the next generation.

With that growth in mind, Western leaders have called for India, along with China, to set strict emission caps. But India has maintained that it needs rapid development to fight poverty among its 1.1 billion people and that its per-capita emissions are far lower than those in rich nations.

India produces roughly 1.2 tons of emissions per capita annually, while the United States produces about 20 tons per capita and the world average is 4 tons. India produces about 4% of the world's greenhouse gases.

Singh said Monday that emissions standards had to "fair and equitable" — an apparent reference to what India sees as the West's unfair demands that it limit its emissions at the same rate as more developed countries which produce far more greenhouse gas.

"Our people want higher standards of living, but they also want clean water to drink, fresh air to breathe and a green earth to walk on," Singh said.

Singh repeated his government's pledge that greenhouse gas emissions at a per capita level will not exceed those of developed countries.

Emissions of carbon dioxide and other pollutants — mostly from burning fossil fuels for electricity and transportation — are blamed for rising global temperatures that threaten the environment.

A U.N. report has estimated that emissions cuts of between 25% to 40% by 2020 are needed to stop global temperatures from rising so high they trigger widespread environmental damage.

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