President Obama and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a "personal commitment" to work together toward a successful global climate change agreement in Paris later this year as part of a sweeping energy package unveiled in New Delhi yesterday on everything from boosting renewables to curbing air pollution.
The deal between the two leaders fell well short of one that Obama and his Chinese counterpart, President Xi Jinping, unveiled in Beijing last year. India offered no new concrete emissions targets yesterday, and Modi insisted that the landmark U.S.-China deal had no impact on his country. Still, he said, India is concerned about the threat of global warming.
"It's my feeling that the agreement that has been concluded between the United States and China does not impose any pressure on us. India is an independent country, and there is no pressure on us from any country or any person," Modi said during a joint press conference after the two leaders had taken a stroll in the Hyderabad House gardens.
"But there is pressure," Modi acknowledged. "When we think about the future generations and what kind of world we are going to give them, then there is pressure. Climate change itself is a huge pressure. Global warming is a huge pressure. ... There is pressure on all countries, on all governments and on all peoples."
Obama, meanwhile, vowed to expand U.S. support for India's ambitious renewable energy goals—Modi has vowed India will expand its solar energy by 100 gigawatts by 2022—and announced new joint initiatives to improve air quality in Indian cities. In negotiating this year toward a new global climate deal that could be signed in Paris in December, Obama said, U.S.-India cooperation will be critical.
"The prime minister and I made a personal commitment to work together to pursue a strong global climate agreement in Paris. As I indicated to him, I think India's voice is very important on this issue. Perhaps no country could potentially be more affected by the impacts of climate change, and no country is going to be more important in moving forward a strong agreement than India," Obama said.
U.S. to help finance India's clean energy
Despite the personal chemistry between Obama and Modi, the relationship between the United States and India in the U.N. climate talks has been rocky. The United States is pushing for a Paris deal that would for the first time see all major climate-polluting nations take equal legal responsibility for tackling climate change, while recognizing that wealthier and longer-polluting countries like the United States will have to take heavier cuts. India, meanwhile, has argued that the United States and other wealthy countries have essentially reneged on two decades of promises to cut emissions and deliver funding and has blasted wealthy nations for demanding that still-developing countries take on new responsibilities.
Yesterday's agreements did not make any concrete headway in bridging that gap, but advocates of a climate treaty said the commitment to cooperate was in itself important, as well as the practical steps to help ramp up clean energy.
"At the practical level, the bilateral steps announced today will help contain India's carbon emissions in ways that also address its urgent development needs. These concrete projects will demonstrate on the ground that the climate and development agendas are fully compatible. At the political level, the pledge by the two leaders to stay in close touch through the year on the climate negotiations is very encouraging," Elliot Diringer, executive vice president of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, said in a statement.
"This signals that India sees the Paris agreement as a priority, and establishes a direct channel that could prove absolutely essential to delivering the final deal," Diringer said.
As part of the agreement, the U.S. Agency for International Development will install a field investment officer in India with the backing of a transactions team to help mobilize investment for India's clean energy sector. Meanwhile, the Export-Import Bank of the United States is exploring projects with the Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency for up to $1 billion in clean energy financing, and the Overseas Private Investment Corp. "plans to build on" Indian renewable projects, particularly in off-grid energy access. The United States also agreed to implement a U.S. EPA program to help measure and improve air quality in urban areas.
Carol Browner, a distinguished fellow at the liberal Center for American Progress and Obama's former climate czar, called the agreements "admirable."
Obama and Modi, she said, "established a new leader-to-leader channel for communication to work through issues in climate negotiations, affirmed ambitious solar energy goals for India, launched a new air quality initiative focusing on India's major cities, catalyzed new clean energy investment opportunities, and more. President Obama closed out last year with a historic joint climate announcement of our two countries' new greenhouse gas reduction targets, and he has started this year by taking a big step with India toward a clean energy future."
Coal industry sees 'a deal in name only'
The United States and India have also been at loggerheads over whether to reduce emissions of hydrofluorocarbons, known as HFCs, that are used in refrigerants and insulating foams. Ever since the United States and China formed an agreement last year to phase down HFCs, India has been the lone holdout among major nations in opposition to using the Montreal Protocol to phase out the pollutant.
When Obama and Modi met last year, they agreed to cooperate on "making concrete progress in the Montreal Protocol." They didn't make new promises yesterday, but analysts saw a victory in jointly reaffirming that old pledge.
"Today's joint HFC agreement shows that President Obama is continuing his leader-level campaign to eliminate one of the six main greenhouse gases this year using the world's most effective and efficient environmental treaty," said Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute of Governance & Sustainable Development. "The agreement with Prime Minister Modi is a solid step forward on the climate front, and complements a similar set of agreements President Obama negotiated with President Xi of China."
Coal industry advocates, meanwhile, said they were less than impressed with the suite of U.S.-India climate agreements. They argued that only cuts equally as steep as those the Obama administration has pledged the United States will make would be economically fair but also maintained that India should not be cutting emissions at all, but rather ramping up coal use.
"The U.S.-India deal is a deal in name only. Like so many other world leaders, Prime Minister Modi of India is not willing to follow President Obama's rash lead in setting carbon reduction targets that will have a wholly negative impact on his country's economy," said Laura Sheehan, senior vice president for communications at the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity.
"Too many in India are not only without reliable power but without electrification altogether. Prime Minister Modi recognizes the valuable role coal will play in helping to lift his people out of poverty and fully develop all of India's potential. For the U.S. to go it alone in setting expensive and unwieldy carbon reduction regulations, while large countries like China or India fail to do the same, seems to ignore the reality of today's highly competitive global economy," she said.
Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net, 202-628-6500