“India’s not waiting.”

Advancing its pledge in Copenhagen and following up on the State of the Union Speech, the Obama administration officially announced it would cut greenhouse gas emissions in the range of 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.  By the end of this month, many other countries are expected to outline their climate goals by 2020, including the much-anticipated pledges by India and the other BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India, and China) nations.

Global reactions to the Copenhagen Accord have certainly been mixed.  Many quickly branded Copenhagen a complete failure.  While this reaction is understandable, it downplays the significance of the accord.  In an interview with PBS following the Copenhagen discussion, President Obama admitted that Copenhagen “didn't move us the way we need to,” but that the global community “held ground” and moved forward. 

 As NRDC’s President Frances Beinecke explained, “This agreement is not all we had hoped for.  There's still more work to be done.  But it strikes a credible blow against the single greatest environmental ill of our time.  It gathers all nations around the common goal of ending this scourge that imperils us all. And it sets the stage for further action in the months ahead.” 

Copenhagen led to many promising developments.  It brought together national delegations, thousands of civil society members, and clean technology entrepreneurs.   No other conference has featured so many heads of state actively involved in the drafting of an agreement in recent history.  The United States, after eight years on the sidelines, reasserted itself as a key player.

The BASIC countries were also elevated as essential players in the climate negotiations.  India, in particular, positioned itself as a bridge between the developed and developing world and will play a pivotal role moving forward.  Although much needs to be done in the coming year, the Copenhagen Accord holds the promise to be a trajectory-altering event in the effort to combat climate change.  

India also moved forward as a global dealmaker in Copenhagen.  In coordination with the BASIC countries, India challenged America’s and the EU’s position, and served as an emerging economy counter-balance to the Western economies’ negotiating bloc.  Prime Minister Singh’s remarks at Copenhagen positioned India as a leader in the new decade:  “We in India, too, are vulnerable, but nevertheless as responsible citizens of the globe, we have agreed to take on a voluntary target” of reducing carbon intensity between 20 and 25 percent by 2020 from 2005.  “We will deliver on this goal regardless of the outcome of this Conference.  We can do even more if a supportive global climate change regime is put in place.”  India’s willingness to combat climate change is a refreshing development that ought to be fully recognized by the world’s other major emitters.

In the last year alone India has made great strides in detailing its climate strategy.  India’s National Action Plan on Climate Change commits India to a low-carbon future (on issues such as solar power and energy efficiency) that will be implemented in this decade.  India has also increased its cooperation with both the United States and China, forming bilateral partnerships to enhance clean energy.    

India’s actions in Copenhagen signal a commitment to a low-carbon development path.  This will help drive greater emissions cuts on the part of the United States and increase investments in clean technology innovation.  It will also help quell the Senate from using “inaction” on the part of India as an excuse to delay domestic climate legislation.  Last night, President Obama warned the U.S. of the dangers of delay, emphasizing “India’s not waiting” to revamp its economy.

The accord has also provided further motivation for U.S.-India collaboration.  The run-up to Copenhagen, including Secretary Clinton’s visit to India and Prime Minister Singh’s state visit to the United States, demonstrated India’s growing influence.  Copenhagen reinforced the importance of the U.S.-India relationship and their dual leadership on climate change.  The two countries should utilize their relationship to build on the momentum to push climate negotiations forward and should strengthen their bilateral partnership on energy and climate change.  Most importantly, it is vital that India and other countries match or exceed their earlier pledges when they announce national actions by January 31.  

If India and other major emitters use Copenhagen as a platform to develop and satisfy detailed national level plans of action going forward, then the accord will truly have been a milestone.  We all know the Copenhagen Accord won’t be enough to combat climate change.  But that doesn’t mean it can’t be an important starting point. 

(co-authored by Andy Gupta and Mihir Mankad)