Fiona Harvey Nano – is it green? And what it says about the role of developing countries in climate change talks

The Nano car – the small, cheap car being produced in India – is not generally regarded as the greenest of ideas. Though small, if taken up in large numbers the car will contribute to rapidly rising greenhouse gas emissions.

But Western liberal handwringing over the car for the masses can sometimes smack of hypocrisy – most people in the developed world rely on cars, so why shouldn’t poorer people in the developing world?

The car’s green credentials were stoutly defended recently by Shyam Saran, special envoy of the Indian prime minister for climate change. He insisted that the Nano was not, as critics have suggested, a scourge to the climate.

More importantly, he made clear the divisions between the developed and the developing world over the right of people in poor countries to increase their standard of living – even if it means raising greenhouse gas emissions. If it does mean raising greenhouse gas emissions, then rich countries will just have to reduce theirs by even more to compensate, his argument ran – after all, they have reaped the benefits for more than a century.

These arguments underly one of the deepest fissures in the international climate change talks - whether developing countries should take on emissions curbs.

Here’s what Mr Saran said:

“The nano is one of the most efficient cars that will be made. It’s very important to keep in mind that you can’t say that people in developing countries should not have aspirations for higher standards of living. You can’t say you stay where you are as you are a latecomer. That simply is not sayable,” he told reporters last week at the United Nations climate change meeting at Bonn.

“What you can say,” he went on, “is that development strategies should be for greater stress on public transport. We are trying to develop mass transport – a metro in many cities [for example]. We are putting greater stress on public transport. We are not saying that everyone in India must have a car. But one can’t go tell the people of India without a car or a TV or electricity that you can’t have this because of climate change.”

He concluded: “We must try to follow sustainable policies as we can. There are 400m Indians who do not have electricity. I can’t tell them they can’t have electricity because of climate change. But if I can develop renewable energy that is much better. If you look at our climate change action plan, that is precisely what we are trying to do.”