02/03/2011 06:05 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Kabul Can Survive Without Gold...

"Kabul can survive without gold. Kabul cannot survive without snow." Afghan President Hamid Karzai ended his remarks to the Delhi Sustainable Development Summit with that old Afghan proverb. He conceded that the local pollution that fouls Kabul's air is the responsibility of Afghans -- but he also pointed out that the climate change that is rapidly diminishing its snow pack is not. Karzai freely admitted that Afghanistan is not really part of the global dialogue on sustainable development because it is desperately striving to end the destruction of its remaining resource base through conflict and chaos. So it was striking that Karzai spoke quietly, and eloquently, on the need for development in Afghanistan that avoids the Western pattern of over-reliance on consumerism -- which he also conceded was gaining what he felt as a dangerous foothold on his people.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh addressed the industrial world more directly. He emphasized India's commitment to low-carbon development, and repeated, in unequivocal terms, his nation's pledge to guarantee that it will keep its per capita carbon emissions below the average level of the industrial world -- so the faster and the lower that U.S., European, and Japanese emissions fall, the lower and the sooner will come India's moment to start reducing its own carbon footprint.

But Singh then underscored that so far India has found no takers among the industrial nations -- the world's major per capita emitters have refused to commit themselves to concrete steps to bring their emissions down fast enough to put India's promise to the test. And Singh, like Karzai, put lifestyles and consumerism on the table as part of the challenge that climate change poses for the world.

But overall it's fair to say that the mood here is about what countries can do, should do, and are doing, on their own. The focus on a great international bargain has diminished, but the momentum behind low-carbon development has, if anything, increased.