Delhi Dilemma

India Is Now the Biggest Barrier to a Global Climate Treaty

A chimney is reflected in a puddle polluted with chemicals at an industrial area of the western Indian city of Surat, November 25, 2009. Arko Datta / Courtesy Reuters

The Kyoto Protocol, the world’s only internationally binding agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, will expire in 2020. But the best chance for coming up with a replacement will come next year, in December 2015, when over 190 countries are scheduled to meet in Paris. Over the coming months, the world’s climate negotiators will scramble to meet this crucial deadline. And for the first time in decades, they have a good chance of succeeding, thanks to favorable political headwinds in the two countries that were once the biggest barriers standing in the way: Last week, Beijing and Washington announced a new agreement to reduce emissions in both countries. Under the joint plan, China will prevent its carbon emissions from growing after 2030 and the United States will reduce its emissions by 26 percent (from 2005 levels) by 2025. To the meet the new targets, China has said it will expand cap-and-trade programs to cover approximately ten percent of its economy. The United States, meanwhile, has announced plans to intensively regulate emissions from coal-fired power plants. 

But now another holdout threatens to derail any attempt to produce a successor to Kyoto. India, as the world’s third-largest producer of greenhouse gases, has always been a crucial actor in international efforts to combat climate change. But now, with China finally ready to do something about greenhouse gases, New Delhi has become the single-biggest roadblock standing in the way. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledged as much during a two-day trip to India in June 2013. “We have to recognize that a collective failure to meet our collective climate challenge would inhibit all countries’ dreams of growth and development,” he said. U.S. officials know that the road to a successful agreement in Paris runs through New Delhi; if climate negotiators want a truly global agreement, they must get India’s leadership on board.

The politics of climate change have long been defined by a divide between the developed and developing world, with the former emphasizing the shared

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