Secretary of State John Kerry made climate change a central theme of his attendance at a major business conclave in India this weekend as other Obama administration aides worked behind the scenes to tee up clean energy deals that could be announced when President Obama visits the country later this month.

Speaking at the Vibrant Gujarat Summit yesterday in Gandhinagar, an event that drew global investors and heads of state as well as U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and World Bank President Jim Kim, Kerry said the United States and India "can do more together, and we must do more together, and we have to do it faster."

He argued that economic growth is not "a zero-sum competition where we have to fight exclusively for what we want or what India, United States would have," and declared progress on climate change an area where both nations stand to gain.

"Unlike many problems in public life, where you struggle sometimes between the pluses and minuses of a particular choice you make—and leaders here all know and business leaders all know what I'm talking about—the choices of climate change offer an unprecedented number of pluses, and frankly, almost no downside," Kerry said.

"If we make the choices that are staring us in the face, the fact is that a solution to climate change is already here. It's called energy policy. Sustainable energy policy. And in a sustainable energy policy comes a whole set of benefits to our economy, something many countries of the world are screaming for today."

Yet while Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is trying to spark a solar revolution in his country—calling for 100,000 megawatts, or five times its current solar generation, by 2022—his government's position on reducing greenhouse gas emissions has been mixed.

Contrasts with China's position
At the most recent U.N. climate change negotiations in Lima, Peru, the Modi administration tried to derail the United States' attempts to make all countries equally accountable for reining in carbon before ultimately agreeing to a deal.

When Obama and Modi meet in India on Jan. 26, few are expecting the type of landmark bilateral agreement of the type the United States struck in Beijing last year. There, in a joint effort to pump momentum into negotiations toward a global accord that will be signed at the end of this year in Paris, Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping each unveiled new carbon emissions targets for their respective countries. While national targets are due from all countries early this year, several analysts said India isn't likely to announce its numbers during the Obama visit.

For one thing, the Obama administration has less to offer in return, having already announced with China its 2025 emissions targets and also struggling to scare up funding for any new projects under a Republican-led Congress. India, for its part, has been wary about being viewed as acting on climate change under pressure from the United States.

"India, like any other country, doesn't want to look like it's simply playing catch-up with what the U.S. and China did. They would want to make it their own, not a U.S.-China redux," said Peter Ogden, a senior energy fellow at the Center for American Progress and former director for climate change policy on the White House National Security Council.

Meanwhile, the Modi government has made it clear that with more than 20 percent of the country's residents still living below the poverty line and 300 million people still without access to electricity, India is at a very different economic level than China. Said Ogden, "They want to make sure any U.S.-India announcement reflects that."

Some possibilities for movement
But between Modi's solar goals and raging air pollution in India, there are a number of areas ripe for deals, Ogden and others said.

Andrew Steer, president of the World Resources Institute think tank, noted that India is home to half of the world's 20 most polluted cities. The government has pledged to invest $1.2 billion in 100 "smart cities" over the next year and has been casting around for investors. Meanwhile, he said, India's promised thirtyfold increase in solar capacity "could be a total game-changer."

Anjali Jaiswal, director of the Natural Resource Defense Council's India Initiative, said Modi's solar ambitions represent the best opportunity for the United States and India to position themselves as climate partners. Air pollution and adaptation for climate change are major areas ripe for agreements later this month. But, she added, if the Obama administration wants to steer India toward a global climate deal, boosting clean energy business will be key.

"Make commitments to show that the U.S. is serious about fighting climate change with India by providing clean energy access," she said. The 100,000-megawatt goal, she said, "is a huge opportunity for U.S. businesses in terms of both technology and finance."

So far, there has been no shortage of attention to Modi's solar goals. Before the summit, Secretary-General Ban inaugurated Gujarat's first 10 MW solar power plant and announced he would be sending former New York Mayor and now U.N. Special Envoy for Climate Change Michael Bloomberg to a major renewable energy summit in New Delhi next month. And the World Bank's Kim said the funding institution plans to be closely involved in designing "solar parks and farms, grid upgrades and non-grid solutions" to meet India's target.

Kim said: "Because it can reduce the growth rate of the country's burgeoning greenhouse gas emissions, a vibrant solar sector can also be a key element of India's contributions to the Paris climate change conference."

Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net, 202-628-6500