Laying the Foundation for US-India Collaboration on Climate Change

On Sunday, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will embark on a five day trip to the United States for the first official state visit of the Obama administration.  The visit will be highlighted with a state dinner with President Obama on November 24th, meant to celebrate growing cooperation between the United States and India. 

In the spirit of such cooperation, Secretary of Energy, Dr. Stephen Chu met with the Indian Minister for New and Renewable Energy, Dr. Farooq Abdullah in Delhi earlier this week.  The two officials discussed India's ambitious solar program and agreed to expand collaboration by promoting investment and research & development in clean-tech

This was one example of how the United States and India are increasingly working together on climate and energy issues.  Next week, the two democratic leaders have the opportunity to forge a true partnership to combat climate change.  While, this meeting is a significant test for US-India relations, it is vital that the two nations work to make it a historic moment in the fight against global climate change.

Prime Minister Singh's visit is a key opportunity for the two nations to jointly commit both nations to finding energy solutions and moving us towards a green economy.  US-India leadership will be necessary to negotiate an international climate treaty in Copenhagen and beyond, and this visit presents an opportunity to work towards consensus in reaching that goal.  The two nations should also use this opportunity to expand bilateral cooperation on climate change and energy.

NRDC's India Initiative is dedicated to working with both governments to find clean energy solutions and combat climate change.  Through extensive research and consultation with stakeholders and officials in both countries, we have identified key areas for collaboration. 

In a letter to President Obama, Frances Beinecke, NRDC's President, outlined potential partnerships between the United States and India:

  • Increase U.S.-India cooperation on energy efficiency.   India's infrastructure is rapidly expanding.  It is estimated that 80 percent of the infrastructure that will exist in India in 2030 has yet to be built.  India presents an extraordinary opportunity to develop while constraining emissions and creating clean-technology innovations.  The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) have done very worthwhile work with their counterparts in India for many years.  These efforts need to be expanded and broadened. USAID's Energy Conservation and Commercialization program (Eco-III), funded at approximately $2 million annually, has been instrumental in launching many high-impact energy efficiency projects, including India's first commercial building code.  The U.S. Government should provide increased funding for ECO-III and should foster the development of a roadmap for an expanded ECO-IV program.
  • Assist in creating a new India "EPA".  India's Environment Minister has announced very encouraging plans to create a new environmental agency in India with real enforcement powers. The proposed National Environmental Protection Authority could play a critical role in India's constraining greenhouse gas emissions and addressing India's serious air and water pollution problems in India's efforts to move towards cleaner energy, for instance in implementing requirements for cleaner transportation fuels and vehicles.   The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), with its decades of experience with environmental regulation and enforcement, could help the Indian Government work through structural and technical issues.
  • Promote cleaner transportation fuels and vehicles.  Black carbon particle pollution harms the health of India's poor people and may accelerate the melting of Himalayan glaciers.  Vehicles and small dirty diesel generators are major sources of this pollution.  Given that the number of vehicles in India is projected to quadruple by 2020, expanding U.S. EPA's work with the India Clean Fuels and Vehicles Program to implement the Euro IV standards in India's largest cities next year is a critical step towards addressing this issue. 
  •  Create a U.S.-India clean tech fund to accelerate technology scale-up. India presents a global opportunity for expanded clean tech innovation and implementation.  The U.S. and Indian Governments should provide $150 million in total for the startup of a U.S.-India clean tech fund. The fund would provide capital for U.S.-India clean-technology cooperation, technology transfers, and licensing of patented technologies.  A clean tech fund could be a stepping-stone to a more expansive U.S.-India trade agreement for clean tech goods and services.
  •  Support India's effort to adapt to the anticipated impacts of climate change.  India faces the prospect of significant stresses on its food and water resources, as well as on its physical and health infrastructure, as a consequence of the impacts of climate change. U.S. support for climate adaptation efforts in India can play a critical role in ensuring the success of Indian adaptation efforts and in ensuring the stability of the region.  The support can take the form both of helping fund adaptation efforts in India and of sharing U.S. experience with disaster and emergency management and planning, especially with ensuring the security of food and water resources, providing adequate health interventions, and in preventing the spread of infectious diseases. 
  •  Cooperate to reduce lead contamination in India. Initiatives aimed at reducing global carbon emissions are having the unintended consequence of increasing lead poisoning in India. The increased adoption of solar, wind power and electric/hybrid vehicles, especially in the United States, has increased the demand for lead batteries which often end up in India, one of the world's largest destinations for recycling and end-of-life disposal. We recommend that government agencies, industry, and non-governmental organizations in India and U.S. create a taskforce to address this problem, including the adoption of a third-party lead battery certification program to reduce emissions and increase used battery collection.

The letter concludes with the hope that the two nations "can lay the foundation for much expanded cooperation to address climate change and energy."  A productive US-India partnership would be economically and environmentally beneficial for both countries - and to our global challenge in fighting climate change.

(Co-authored by Andy Gupta, NRDC Program Assistant)