Part of a larger interview:
What is your view on whether India should give up on insisting that rich countries should pay for climate change mitigation or instead share some of the burden? If it is ok to ask for reparations for past colonial crimes, surely paying for past carbon sins is also ok? What would be your advice for India’s stance in Paris?
Let me first mention our contribution to cutting carbon emissions: we heavily tax petrol, diesel and coal; we have successfully expanded our forest cover and continue to do so despite land shortage; we have invested heavily in public transportation; and we are committed to an ambitious renewable energy programme. Add to this the fact that our lifestyle is far less energy-intensive than most other countries.
The next point is that we have made these efforts notwithstanding the fact that we are a low fourth emitter in terms of total emissions. On the basis of 2012 data, our carbon emissions are just one-fifth of the largest emitter, China, and one-third of the second-largest emitter, the U.S. In per-capita terms, our emissions are tiny and we do not even appear on the top one hundred list.
Coming to your main question, morally and intellectually, there is something very wrong with the argument that developed countries, which have been historically the largest emitters, should not only be exempt from having to pay for the past damage but also be rewarded for it by being allowed a larger share of the carbon space instead of having to share it equally with the rest of the humanity.
Quite apart from the moral case, there is ample legal precedence within the United States domestic laws for compensation for the damage caused by past actions even when the connection between the actions and the damage was not known at the time the actions were taken, as illustrated by the United States Superfund Act of 1980.
So, in my personal view, while we must make every possible contribution to the greening of the planet, especially when these contributions are also consistent with our national objectives, there is no reason to shy away from seeking greater carbon space to facilitate our growth and development or from seeking redress for the past damage in the form of finance for, say, adaptation, mitigation and access to patented green technologies.