India: A Welcomed Breakthrough in International Climate Change Cooperation

In a distinct shift in its position from earlier this summer, India announced, yesterday, that it agrees to pass legislation that would set targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions based on national actions.  This is a welcomed breakthrough and puts into action what NRDC's India initiative learned during discussions in New Delhi just last week. 

Clean energy and climate change were central to our discussions with Indian leaders, clean-tech roundtables, and environmental groups during our recent trip.  From these conversations, Dr. Kim Knowlton, Seth Silverman, and I learned more about the significant actions that India is already taking to address climate change.  The legislation, announced by Minister Jairam Ramesh from the Ministry of Environment and Forests, underscores India's commitment to mitigating carbon emissions. 

We also learned that there are even greater opportunities for enhanced US-India cooperation than initially thought.  For example, as announced today, plans to build the world's largest solar power facility in Gujarat, valued at $10 billion and facilitated by the Clinton Climate Initiative, are well underway.  This 3,000 megawatt project provides a tremendous opportunity for tech transfer by American companies and puts into action the new National Solar Mission set for release by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, led by Minister Farooq Abdullah

Innovative agencies, like the Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE) led by Dr. Ajay Mathur, is continuing its impressive work of accelerating energy efficiency projects through the anticipated release of the National Mission on Energy Efficiency.  For example, BEE recently released Energy Conservation Building Codes User Guide with USAID's ECO-III program and the energy efficiency labeling program for household appliances, including televisions, ceiling lamps, and air-conditioners.  These are just the tip of the iceberg.  There are massive opportunities for scale up of public private partnership and tech transfer between the US and India.        

We learned that counterproductive misperceptions exist in both countries about the others domestic and international position on climate change.  The news reports from this week seem to suggest that we are working to correct these misunderstandings to support clean tech and adaption funding in US climate legislation and an international agreement at Copenhagen.  Success in domestic legislation - the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES) and the new legislation that India is drafting - are critical to reaching an international agreement on climate change in Copenhagen.  The domestic legislation and international agreement at Copenhagen are just the beginning in creating a clean energy future for the world. 

We also learned that there are additional motivators for India to accelerate towards clean energy.  India has a massive energy deficit - over 400 million people lack reliable electricity or have no electricity.  India's robust economic growth is working to electrify these homes and bring millions out of poverty - a goal the international community should support.  In some instances, India is making up these shortages by expensive and polluting endeavors such as importing vast amounts of coal from overseas and relying on and dirty diesel generation to meet ever increasing energy demands.  Energy efficiency, solar, and wind stand as both economically attractive and environmentally smart alternatives to these approaches. 

Another key driver for clean energy is that India faces enormous public health and food security threats resulting from climate change, as discussed by Dr. Knowlton in her blog last week.  To avoid these climate health emergencies and to address illnesses and deaths related to floods, malaria, and diarrhea that India faces today, India needs an international agreement that would unleash opportunities for both adaption and mitigation.

We left the Delhi heat and monsoon rains encouraged by our discussions that India's actions for clean energy through energy efficiency and renewables will lead towards the welcomed shift in India's position that we are beginning to see this week.  Returning to the US, the immediate challenge became even clearer: we need US climate legislation and together we must work towards an international agreement in Copenhagen.