India must make a strong case at the ongoing U.N. Climate Change Conference in Cancun for substantial international funding for carbon mitigation. There is justified disappointment that the developed countries have not delivered on the promise of a $30 billion fast start fund made last year in Copenhagen and the commitments made so far are small. The tardy pace of action on mitigation makes it all the more necessary for emerging economies, which are under pressure to reduce their emissions, to push for a stronger plan for funding and technology transfer. India is pursuing the goal of a reduction of at least 20 per cent in carbon emission intensity by 2020 (over 2005 levels). It has the opportunity not merely to reduce carbon intensity, but to improve the quality of life for citizens through green infrastructure. Given the scale of what is needed, it should make energy-efficient choices today, not put off such decisions. This is essential to avoid lock-in effects that raise long-term emissions.

The experience of the developed countries demonstrates that lock-in effects are felt particularly in two major areas, power generation and design of urban development. In this context, data from just three countries with high per capita incomes but different emission rates make it evident that development need not involve high carbon pollution. While per capita carbon dioxide emissions for 2006 stood at 19.5 tonnes in the United States, they were 9.1 tonnes in the United Kingdom and 6.4 tonnes in France. This has resulted primarily from the kind of urban form chosen in the early part of the 20th century, of sprawl versus compact cities. The models for road-building and transport options have obviously come with different carbon consequences. These are lessons that should impel India to view urban development, housing infrastructure and transport as crucial determinants of future emissions. Clean energy is another key goal, but success here will depend on the availability of improved technologies that will reduce emissions from coal-based power plants, and enable capture and storage of carbon. These objectives must become core components of the National Action Plan on Climate Change, adding to the emphasis on efficiency and investment in renewable options. Cleaning up coal emissions and improving power plant efficiency will depend on access to newer technologies. The opportunity to pursue the agenda for collaboration, funding and research at Cancun needs to be seized.

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