Major Opportunity for Obama and Modi to Lead Climate Action Post-Paris: 3 Priorities to Watch

President Obama and Prime Minister Modi walk in the garden in New Delhi in 2015.
Credit: Wikimedia under Creative Commons

President Barack Obama will host Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi this week at the White House to make progress on “our climate change and clean energy partnership, security and defense cooperation, and economic growth priorities.” Climate change and clean energy have been a priority between the two leaders—as solidified through the Paris Climate Agreement. The meeting this week is an important opportunity for the two leaders to turn promises into action.

India, as a major developing economy and third largest carbon emitter, is an essential partner in the effort to combat climate change and accelerate low-carbon development. Prioritizing climate change has been at the top of the Modi and Obama’s agenda with two summits in September 2014 in Washington, D.C. and January 2015 in New Delhi. In the earlier U.S.-India Joint Statements, the leaders of the two largest democracies in the world agreed to cooperate in phasing down heat-trapping hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), expanding clean energy markets, and enhancing bilateral climate change discussions.

The U.S.-India joint programs on climate change and clean energy laid the foundation for the Paris Agreement, fostering a constructive engagement between developed and developing economies. While both the U.S. and India signed the Paris Agreement during the United Nations Ceremony in April 2016, both countries need to formally join, and take real steps to implement the agreement.  

As NRDC’s President Rhea Suh urged in our letter to President Obama, now is the time to take critical next steps after Paris. President Obama and Prime Minister Modi can assure action on the Paris Agreement by committing to ratifying the agreement this year. To demonstrate this commitment, the two leaders can prioritize action in three main areas: climate-friendly cooling with a focus on amending the Montreal Protocol; innovative climate finance; and strong climate resilience and air pollution programs.

Progress on climate-friendly cooling with a focus on amending the Montreal Protocol by October 2016.

Since the global community came together to achieve the Paris Agreement, leaders in both the United States and India have emphasized that an agreement to amend the Montreal Protocol is next. To maximize the progress and goodwill that the U.S. and India have built toward phasing down HFCs, the U.S. should commit with India to amend the Montreal Protocol by October 2016—the final meeting in Kigali in October 2016—and before COP 22 in Marrakesh. Now is the time to accelerate momentum and urge negotiators to be steadfast in working through final details, including assurances on the Multilateral Fund (MLF), technology-transfer and accelerated timeframes that respect developed and developing country positions. In addition, strengthening U.S.-India programs on energy efficient cooling technologies are vital to progress on climate change, as launched during the Advanced Cooling Challenge by Indian Minister Harsh Vardhan during the Clean Energy Ministerial.

Under to the Montreal Protocol, chemicals like chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), used largely in vehicle and room air conditioners, must be phased out. The default replacement chemicals are HFCs. Unfortunately, HFCs are powerful greenhouse with global warming potential that can be up to 10,000 times higher than carbon dioxide. HFC emissions from many markets are growing exponentially, and air conditioner usage is growing equally fast, especially in developing markets. If HFC use in both room and vehicle air conditioners are not reduced substantially, climate change will occur at a much faster rate and could undo progress. Fortunately, commercially viable alternatives are emerging rapidly and transitioning to these alternatives can be safe and feasible, especially with the financial support from the MLF.

Over 108 countries, including India, the United States as well as China, the European Union, Island Nations and 54 African countries, support phasing down HFCs through an amendment to the Montreal Protocol. Countries like China, the European Union, Japan, Australia, and the United Statesthe world’s largest economiesare already implementing regulations and market transitions of their own. Global markets are equally active in phasing down HFCs. As differences in the amendments narrow, India can lead negotiators toward a formidable agreement that protects the interests of developing countries, while preventing runaway growth from countries expected to explode in HFC use between now and 2030. The U.S. can continue to push for more domestic action by developed countries as well as ensure that the Montreal Protocol’s multilateral fund can support the phase down in developing countries, as the MLF has in the past. The strength of the deal will hinge on compromises regarding baseline periods, control schedules, and funding language.

Advance innovative financing solutions to reach clean energy targets by 2022.

The U.S. and India should scale clean energy markets by creating a “clean energy finance hub.” Modeled after earlier programs, such as the U.S.-India Eco Program, the hub would leverage government funding to unleash private investment through innovative instruments, such as green banks and green bonds. The goal should be to meet India’s target of 100 gigawatts of solar energy by 2022 as well as wind and efficiency targets.

Prime Minster Modi announced bold domestic targets to achieve 100 gigawatts (GW) of solar energy by 2022, a five-fold increase. Not only does the solar target align with India’s goal to increase energy access, it creates jobs. Over $140 billion of investment will be required in the next six years to achieve India’s clean energy goals, and some estimates are upward of $200 billion. To support accelerated growth of renewables and address the financing gap, in the current annual budget India doubled its innovative coal tax to Rs. 400 ($6) per metric ton to fund a National Clean Environment Fund (NCEF). The NCEF now has more than Rs. 24,000 crore (more than $3.5 billion) annually. This is the third time the coal tax has been doubled. The NCEF as well as international and bilateral funds and can be used toward innovative financing programs. Green banks and bonds are innovative financing tools that can help propel India’s solar and wind energy markets, and support critical energy saving and climate resilience projects.

The clean energy finance hub would focus on innovative financial solutions, such as green banks and green bonds. The hub would leverage existing areas, such as the NCEF and the Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency (IREDA), and expand clean energy finance markets in India with domestic and international funds. The cooperation could focus the necessary policy environment, institutions, and tools to help financing mechanisms succeed. It could also facilitate broad investment in and expansion of clean energy sources, as well as opportunities for clean energy businesses and financiers. In addition, it could bridge knowledge and increase capacity within government on clean energy finance by exchanging knowledge with key leaders in the U.S., such as the Connecticut Green Bank and New York Green Bank. The clean energy finance hub could be housed within IREDA with a steering committee engaging the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, Ministry of Power, and Ministry of Finance.

Strengthen climate resilience and air quality knowledge-sharing programs.

Strong on-the-ground resilience programs are critical to implementing the Paris Agreement. Attention on mitigation efforts far outweighs resilience efforts for both international and bilateral programs. With the impacts of global warming bearing on communities around the globe, climate resilience needs much more action. To elevate climate resilience, the U.S. should redouble efforts announced with India in 2014 on climate resilience by expanding knowledge-sharing programs on addressing extreme heat and air pollution to protect public health and combat global warming impacts.

Extreme weather events, such as the current 2016 record-breaking heat wave in India, where temperatures soared to 123.8°F, cause loss of lives and livelihoods. Climate change fuels extreme heat, and higher temperatures contribute to higher air pollution levels, underscoring the need to protect public health and strengthen climate resilience. In addition, several Indian cities are consistently ranked among the worst in the world on air quality, highlighting the urgent need for monitoring air pollutants to protect environmental and human health, particularly in megacities.

Building on the September 2014 U.S.-India Joint Statement, the U.S should work with India to expand knowledge-exchange programs that can protect public health by strengthening climate resilience and improving air quality. The bilateral program could start with exchanging expertise on community preparedness for heat waves and flooding, to engage cities such as New York City and Ahmedabad in two-way exchanges. This bilateral program should include national and subnational components with joint funding to support an award process, a web-based platform for information sharing, knowledge exchanges and conferences focused on disaster risk reduction and management. To share knowledge on the global body of science on air quality, the U.S. and India should create a joint working group to disseminate information on scientific, technological and health research, including the AirNow program.

During the discussions this week, President Obama and Prime Minister Modi can take robust and immediate joint action that demonstrates real commitment following the Paris Agreement to put us toward a path to a more sustainable future that supports economic growth and improves the lives of millions. While the two leaders will also discuss security cooperation and economic growth, no other issue has more profound and far reaching impacts on security and economic growth than climate change. Solidifying the leadership roles of the U.S. and India is essential to combatting climate change and encouraging a stronger global response, with benefits not only for our two countries, but also for the world. 

NRDC’s Letter to President Barack Obama can be found here.

Jessica Korsh, NRDC Stanback Fellow, contributed to this blog.



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