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Prod to PM to be in Copenhagen

Port of Spain, Nov. 28: World leaders gathered here for a Commonwealth summit are piling intense pressure on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to attend a UN climate change conference in Copenhagen next month.

The pressure may force India to take a more proactive position on climate change than the government intended to do earlier. It may also require New Delhi to go beyond its national action plan on climate change, for which it has been patting itself for months.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy told a news conference here after having lunch with Singh that he was confident the Prime Minister would be present at Copenhagen.

So far, Singh’s inclination has been not to travel to Copenhagen, but to leave the conference to the minister for environment and forests, Jairam Ramesh and the Prime Minister’s special envoy on climate change, Shyam Saran.

“We need to get commitments with binding decisions” in Copenhagen, Sarkozy said. At the same time, “we must help them (developing countries) financially to face up to the challenge of global warming,” a long-standing demand by New Delhi.

But it is the French President’s view that major decisions at the climate change talks cannot be taken without the highest-level presence from the Indian government.

Sarkozy’s was an unlikely presence at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting because France is not a member of the Anglophone group.

But he was specially invited by the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Patrick Manning, and the French President used the opportunity to unveil his “Fairness Climate Plan”, with a priority of combating deforestation. Sarkozy is also calling for the setting up of a new world environmental organisation.

External affairs ministry spokesperson Vishnu Prakash said: “The Prime Minister was very clear, and very emphatically he said India had a major stake in the success of the Copenhagen Summit.”

“India is one of the countries which are worst-affected by the climate change, and it is in our own interest to see a successful outcome of the Copenhagen Summit,” the spokesperson described the Prime Minister as saying.

Singh “expressed satisfaction” over the progress of India’s nuclear deal with France, a day after that country’s parliament unanimously ratified the deal, giving India the unconditional right to reprocess spent nuclear fuel.

Sarkozy advised India that it had “nothing to lose and everything to gain by being in Copenhagen”. “If India is to be heard, it needs to be present,” he said.

On Wednesday, US President Barack Obama announced he would travel to Copenhagen for the climate talks, ending months of speculation about his attendance.

Following Obama’s announcement, Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper reversed his decision yesterday and said he too would attend the climate talks.

Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao has also announced his attendance at the Copenhagen talks, all of which may leave Singh with little choice but to go as well.

Yesterday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, another unusual presence at the Commonwealth summit, said the momentum for a deal in Copenhagen was “strong — and it continues to grow”, dispelling predictions of a failure of the climate negotiations.

The unexpected invitations to Sarkozy, Ban and the Danish Prime Minister, Lars Lokke Rasmussen, to come here pushed climate change to the top of the discussions at the Commonwealth summit.

India’s view, expressed by Saran, was that the Commonwealth was not a negotiating forum on climate change and that the issue should be discussed in detail at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

But the momentum that is building up over Copenhagen may make it difficult for India to stay on the sidelines of an issue which arises strong political and social passions within the country.

Reflecting a sense within the Prime Minister’s team here that they are aware of this trap, Singh yesterday made an intervention at the Commonwealth summit to speak about climate change.

The Prime Minister cautioned against any attempt to “pre-empt the Copenhagen negotiating process. Whatever time is still available to us before the high-level segment meets from December 16, should be used to achieve as much convergence as possible.”

“If the consensus is that only a political document is feasible then we must make certain that the post-Copenhagen process continues to work on the Bali mandate and the UNFCCC continues to be the international template for global climate action”, Singh added

Singh also met British Prime Minister Gordon Brown for about 40 minutes and discussed Copenhagen. Following that meeting, Singh told the Commonwealth summit that he welcomed Brown’s proposal for the mobilisation of at least $100 billion by 2020 for supporting climate change action in developing countries.

Today, Singh met Canadian Prime Minister Harper and both of them announced that an Indo-Canadian nuclear deal “is very close to completion”.

Singh said after their bilateral meeting that Harper had “discussed this with us when he was in India and he has proved to be absolutely true to his words and the process could be completed in a short period of eight to 10 days”.

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