1 and 1 Make 11: U.S.-India Partnership Key to Facing Global Climate Challenges

Earlier this week, President Barack Obama outlined a U.S. National Climate Action Plan, addressing “one of the greatest challenges of our time” and called upon the international community to confront climate change together. Thanks in part to recent progress in its environmental and energy sectors, India is positioned to help lead the charge. During Secretary Kerry’s recent visit to India for the fourth U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue, his remarks included a Hindi proverb: “Ek aur ek gyarah hote hei” or “1 and 1 make 11.” In other words, unity is strength. With climate cooperation on the forefront of President Obama’s and Secretary Kerry’s agendas, we hope the proverb rings true, resulting in reinvigorated and effective bilateral U.S.-India efforts to face global climate change.

As President Obama stated, “No nation can solve this challenge alone.” India’s recent success in adopting building energy efficiency codes, improving adaptation strategies, including preparedness for heat events, and deploying renewable energies through the National Solar Mission highlight India’s willingness to take action. Through increased bilateral cooperation, the U.S. and India can act as leaders within the international community to address climate change. India’s media coverage applauded Obama’s most prominent effort yet to deliver on a major priority.

The new action plan also comes in the wake of crucial developments in the partnership between the U.S. and India. During the fourth U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue last week, Secretary Kerry and Indian External Affairs Minister Salman Khursid launched a Climate Working Group to solidify the two countries’ effective partnership and prioritize climate change as an area of bilateral cooperation.

Aligning with NRDC’s proposed areas for engagement prior to Secretary Kerry’s visit, Obama’s national climate action plan addresses reducing carbon pollution, supporting climate resilience, and leading international efforts. To reiterate my colleague, Jake Schmidt, the most important thing that the U.S. can do to facilitate international action is to take significant steps to curb U.S. climate pollution.

In addition to acting at home, the following key areas of engagement are prime for a U.S.-Indian partnership to fight climate change:

Reduce carbon pollution: HFCs and power plant financing. At this week’s Montreal Protocol working group meeting of parties in Bangkok, NRDC made the business case for India to phase down “super greenhouse gases” called hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) used in refrigerants and air conditioners, which is crucial to international efforts. As Secretary Kerry and Chinese President Xi Jinping work together to phase down HFCs, Secretary Kerry emphasized that India’s participation and cooperation is crucial. Obama’s action plan also calls for an end to U.S. financing new coal plants abroad. All of these efforts enable India’s continued transition to a clean energy economy.

Strengthening resilience to climate change. President Obama and Secretary Kerry both acknowledged the importance of climate resilience and the vulnerability of emerging economies like India. This is particularly pertinent for India as recent extreme weather, from heat waves to massive flooding, have devastated the country. Indian cities are undertaking efforts to prepare for climate change, including the city of Ahmedabad’s recent adoption of a Heat Action Plan in the face of rising temperatures. President Obama’s new national plan promises to develop and share adaptation management tools to prepare and respond to climate-change risks. President Obama also outlined his plan for mobilizing climate financing, which began with Secretary Kerry’s announcement of a U.S. aid donation to help India’s flood relief efforts.

Scaling up energy efficiency and clean energy. The U.S. will continue to collaborate with India to increase energy efficiency in buildings and appliances, through opportunities such as the Clean Energy Ministerial. The clean energy partnership that President Obama and Prime Minister Singh launched in 2009 will be expanded because, as President Obama described, a low-carbon, clean energy economy can be an engine of growth for decades to come. These efforts will contribute to the development of renewable energy markets in India, particularly solar and wind.

NRDC’s President Frances Beinecke called President Obama’s plan “an historic turning point.”  We hope the climate leadership that President Obama promised on Tuesday and the U.S.-India climate working group launched last week during Secretary Kerry’s visit will also prove to be historic turning points as the U.S. and India team up to lead the fight against climate change.

Co-Authored by Lauren Sanchez, NRDC Moran Fellow