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India Warns Against 'Green Protectionism'

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By Shaun Tandon

WASHINGTON (AFP) - India has warned against rich nations using climate change as a pretext for protectionism as the United States and France consider imposing environment taxes.

India's chief climate negotiator, Shyam Saran, was in Washington for talks with the new administration of US President Barack Obama, whom he praised for putting a new emphasis on halting the warming of the planet.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu -- hoping to ease concerns that climate action would worsen the US recession -- has suggested slapping a tariff on imports from nations that do not require emissions cuts to "level the playing field."

French President Nicolas Sarkozy seconded the view on Tuesday, saying he favored a carbon tax on imports from countries with lower environmental standards than his own.

Saran, addressing the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said: "Most developing countries will argue that we are already starting with a very unlevel playing field."

"Protectionism under a green label," Saran told the think tank, "would be a very negative development."

Saran said development in poorer nations "must be at the center" of efforts to fight global warming.

"What you need is really a global collaborative effort to address the issue of climate change, not something which gets linked up with issues of competitiveness," Saran said.

Negotiators meet next week in Bonn to lay the groundwork for a December conference in Copenhagen that is meant to approve a treaty on fighting climate change after 2012, when the Kyoto Protocol's obligations run out.

Saran welcomed that the new Obama team was "very, very serious" about climate change but said that its position in negotiations was still "a work in progress."

India has pledged never to let its per capita emissions exceed those of rich nations and has launched a push to expand solar power -- not fossil fuels -- as it develops a country where some 400 million people lack regular electricity.

But India, like fellow developing world heavyweight China, has refused to commit on emission cuts in the new treaty until developed nations, particularly the United States, show their own targets.

China has sought to exclude its vast export sector from action on global warming, saying that rich nations buying the goods should bear responsibility.

Obama, delivering a news conference on Tuesday, pushed for Congress to fund investment in green energy, saying it would help the United States recover from its economic crisis.

Obama said his budget will invest "in the renewable sources of energy that will lead to new jobs, new businesses, and less dependence on foreign oil."

But some lawmakers of the rival Republican Party are resisting proposals for mandatory caps on carbon emissions, saying it would worsen the recession.

The European Union, long the champion of the Kyoto Protocol, has been the target of growing unease from green groups amid the economic downturn.

European Union leaders last week refused to put a figure on aid for developing nations to cut greenhouse gases, saying they were waiting to see what the United States and emerging economies would put on the table.

Sarkozy, in a speech on Tuesday, supported a carbon tax on imports, saying companies in France were already paying the cost of curbing carbon emissions.

"There is no reason for us to accept ... environmental dumping that will lead the world to ruin," Sarkozy said.

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