Businesses urge UK and India along low-carbon path

By Richard Black
Environment correspondent, BBC News

Image caption, Sir Stuart Rose, Marks and Spencer chairman, led the initiative alongside Rajan Bharti Mittal

Closer collaboration between the UK and India could kick-start moves to a low-carbon economy, says a report by business leaders in the two countries.

Retailers Marks and Spencer, wind energy giant Suzlon, and HSBC Bank are among the companies contributing to a report making the case for closer ties.

Among other things, they argue for more UK investment in clean energy in India.

Prime Minister David Cameron said the collaboration could "deliver jobs, growth and environmental protection".

The UK government sees such bilateral collaborations as potentially improving prospects for a new deal within the UN climate negotiations, the latest round of which gets underway in just under a fortnight in Cancun, Mexico.

The report - UK-India Collaboration for a Prosperous Low Carbon Economy - was launched on Monday at the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Foreign Secretary William Hague said the two nations were "natural partners", with common interests in tackling terrorism, poverty and climate change.

"We strongly welcome today's report, [which is] an important milestone in co-operation between the UK and India on low-carbon business opportunities that will drive the economies of tomorrow," he told reporters.

The UK-India Business Leaders Climate Group (BLCG) advocates running joint projects to demonstrate low-carbon technologies, setting up joint research and development programmes, developing innovative financing mechanisms and removing barriers to investment in clean energy.

India will host a summit on clean energy technologies next October.

However, the UK and Indian governments have not agreed to turn all of the report's recommendations into action.

The message from India's Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh was that his government would "give this significant report the most serious consideration."

Development drive

BLCG co-chairman Rajan Bharti Mittal, managing director of the New Delhi-based conglomerate Bharti Enterprises, emphasised that for countries such as India, there is no question of stopping economic growth - it is a question of how that growth proceeds.

Image caption, Gas from farming could be cheaper for Indian villagers than wind or solar power

"The issue really is a country that is growing at breakneck speed - at almost 9% per year," he said.

"The question is how we manage growth in an equitable way, and make sure that environmental issues and climate change are taken care of."

And Sir John Banham - chairman of materials company Johnson Matthey and a former director of the UK's CBI - said collaborations between British and Indian expertise could bring real benefits to India's rural poor, while curbing carbon emissions.

"[In the report] you'll see reference to the possibility that by combining technologies readily available in India and the UK, it could be possible for every village in India to have electricity and hot water delivered from gas," he said.

"We're entering a golden age of gas - methane - and by the time of our summit, it would be possible to have demonstration projects showing how for a fraction of the cost of wind and a smaller fraction of the cost of solar, you could have electricity brought to every Indian village."

Mexican dawn

As governments gear up for two weeks of negotiations in Cancun, analysts are continuing to look for ways of advancing the movement towards a new global deal on climate change that was so brutally halted in Copenhagen a year ago.

UK Environment Minister Greg Barker said the UK-Indian collaboration was the sort of initiative that could play a role.

"What's holding the climate talks back is one question, and it's the same question whether you're a senator in Illinois or an MP in India or any European country," he said.

"Fundamentally, it is whether a transition to a low-carbon economy is compatible with continued economic growth; and no-one knows the answer, because no country has made the transition yet.

"It's vital that we show tangible on-the-ground results, and bilateral relationships like this one can drive... transformation in a way that multilateral initiatives can't."

The UK government has made a big play of its desire to improve relations with India in recent months, including through Mr Cameron's visit in July, in which he was accompanied by what Downing St called the biggest trade delegation in living memory.

Marks and Spencer chairman Sir Stuart Rose, who chairs the BLCG alongside Mr Bharti Mittal, said he was not concerned if the UK government was backing the clean energy collaboration because it fitted a wider agenda.

"I know from my own business that we can actually make our businesses sustainable and profitable... and I think this is a good practical step. If it's got a wider agenda, so be it," he told BBC News.

"I'm a firm believer that it's not government that has to lead this; government has to travel together with us, but business has to deliver it.

"Business is what makes the world go round, the creation of wealth and profit - and if we don't deliver it, nobody will."

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