On June 7, Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, made an official visit to the White House to discuss a host of issues with President Barack Obama, most notably, climate change and India’s pathway to carbon emission reductions through renewable energy investment. The duo also set aside time to delve into economic growth and defense cooperation.
Last December, 170 nations signed the Paris Agreement, a historical feat; the agreement will go into effect thirty days after 55 nations representing 55% of global carbon emissions ratify it. There is urgency to ratify before the end of the year, as US Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump, has vowed to back out of the agreement. Modi has said India, which represents 4.1% of global emissions, would ratify the agreement by the end of this year. If the US, which emits 25% of global emissions, fails to do so, most other nations will have to ratify in order for it to be effective.
One significant aspect of Modi and Obama’s discussion was the decision to finance $60 million in clean energy, a drop in the bucket to some environmentalists. According to Environmental news publication, Grist, “The Indian Government will split the costs with US foundations to help small Indian solar startups get off the ground, especially in rural villages that are not on the country’s electrical grid. These subsidies and loan guarantees should help the young companies expand to the point where they can attract far greater international investment – as much as $1.4 billion, the two governments estimate. That additional money will mostly come from the private sector, although some may come from other government sources, such as the US Export-Import bank.” The US Export-Import Bank, “provides trade financing solutions – including export credit insurance, working capital guarantees, and guarantees of commercial loans to foreign buyers – to empower exporters of US goods and services,” according to their website.
India committed to producing 175 Gigawatts of renewable energy, 100 of which would come from solar. “The cost of solar per kilowatt hour dropped from a 2012 Planning Commission estimate of Rs. 10.4 – 12.5 to Rs. 4.3 in the latest round of “reverse auctions” (low bid wins),” according to The Diplomat.
India also plans to purchase 6 nuclear reactors from Westinghouse, an American company, and together with Nuclear Power Corporation of India, Ltd, will begin site construction and finalise contractual agreements by June 2017. Environmentalists are not fully supportive of this measure, but the Sierra Club’s Executive Director, Michael Brune, still put his support behind the overall agreement. China has continually blocked India’s entrance into the Nuclear Suppliers Group, as China has maintained its position that signing of Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is the cornerstone for safeguarding the international nuclear non-proliferation regime and India has not signed this treaty yet; but Obama said he welcomes India’s application and urges other nations to support it. India has large reserves of coal, and leaving them in the ground is essential to keeping global temperature rise under control.
The two leaders also spoke of public-privately funded research into smart grids and renewable energy storage, wildlife conservation, and doing more to combat wildlife trafficking.
In a joint statement released by the White House, the two nations laid out their plans for a clean energy future. The US contributes to the majority of emissions, while India has a major proportion of the world’s population, and as India develops, emissions are expected to rise. There are ways to make sure that economic development happens in a sustainable way. By investing in renewables using public funds, and encouraging the private sector to do the same, India may create the template for sustainable development in the face of rising temperatures and extreme weather patterns. Researching innovative ways to store solar power so that even at night or during inclement weather, people can have power, can transform societies.
PM Modi acknowledges that India has a responsibility to develop sustainably, but the nation also has 300 million people who do not have access to electricity, and he says that he will not leave those people in the dark.
The visit was hailed a success and expressed stronger ties between the two nations. Obama is trying to finalise his clean energy plans before his tenure ends, so that he may leave a legacy of taking concrete steps to combat climate change. India acknowledges its role in affecting global temperature rise, and Modi hopes to go about developing India’s energy infrastructure the right way. If nations follow through with their Paris commitments, runaway warming may be kept under control.
Sarah Sakeena Marshall, B.S. Environmental Policy