Obama and Modi Signal a Shift Towards Action on a Global Climate Deal


Co-authored by Meredith Connolly, NRDC Energy Law and Policy Fellow

Amidst the Republic Day celebrations on Monday, President Obama and Prime Minister Modi signaled a stronger relationship in fighting global climate change and growing clean energy markets. The leaders of the largest democracies in the world agreed to cooperate on phasing down heat-trapping, hydroflurocarbons (HFCs), expanding clean energy markets, and enhancing bilateral climate change discussions toward achieving an ambitious agreement in Paris later this year.

Working towards robust global clean energy markets advances both leaders' shared ambitions and builds a low-carbon economy in a country on the frontlines of climate change impacts. The commitment to advance the joint research and deployment projects provides greater opportunity for business and academic cooperation on solar, wind and energy efficiency.

As NRDC's President Rhea Suh urged in her letter to President Obama and we highlighted before the visit, cooperation on clean energy technology, finance and policy is essential to scaling up these markets, providing clean energy access and fighting climate change. Increasing efforts on climate resilience and air quality are also positive elements to protecting human health and fighting climate change.

Stronger Climate Change Cooperation - Including an HFC Phasedown

Agreeing on bilateral cooperation to phase down HFCs under the Montreal Protocol is significant to fighting climate change and builds momentum toward greater cooperation to reach a new international phasedown agreement. Ahead of this trip, we highlighted that next steps could include continued task force discussions on technical knowledge exchange, a phasedown timetable, and an amendment to the Montreal Protocol. The US-India joint statement explicitly relies on the Montreal Protocol:

"The President and Prime Minister reaffirmed their prior understanding from September 2014 concerning the phase down of HFCs and agreed to cooperate on making concrete progress in the Montreal Protocol this year."

The agreement on HFCs shows that India and the United States, along with other countries around the world, are prepared to help phase down these super greenhouse gases under the Montreal Protocol. As NRDC and the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) research shows, a growing number of Indian companies are leapfrogging to coolants in air conditioners and refrigerators that don't heat the planet. Business cooperation with international companies, including those in the US, China, Japan and elsewhere can advance the HFC phasedown.

Expanding Clean Energy Partnerships and Financing

President Obama welcomed Prime Minister Modi's increased goal of 100 gigawatts (GW) of solar energy by 2022 with a new influx of financing from the U.S. Export-Import Bank among others and by enhancing energy efficiency and renewables cooperation.

American companies are eager to increase their participation in this growing market - U.S.-based SunEdison and First Solar offer early successful examples. Our work with partners in India shows that the potential is huge to tap into India's vast solar resources. It can create jobs, help India expand energy access, and help reduce pollution. Based on initial research by NRDC and CEEW, and given the limited data available in India, we estimate that at least 23,884 cumulative jobs in the solar industry from 2011 to 2014 - solely from commissioned projects currently producing electricity - were generated locally in India. Energy efficiency is also a tremendous energy resource in India and globally, as research from NRDC and the Administrative Staff College of India shows.

The new US-India joint statement details expansion of clean energy partnerships and financing:

  • Expanding Partnership to Advance Clean Energy Research (PACE-R): A renewed commitment to PACE-R, including extending funding for three existing research tracks of solar energy, building energy efficiency, and biofuels for an additional five years and launching a new track on smart grid and grid storage.
  • Expanding Partnership to Advance Clean Energy Deployment (PACE-D): Both the countries intended to expand our current Partnership to Advance Clean Energy Deployment (PACE-D) through increased bilateral engagements and further joint initiatives to expand cooperation in support of India's ambitious targets in renewable energy.
  • Accelerating Clean Energy Finance: Prime Minister Modi emphasized India's ongoing efforts to create a market environment that will promote trade and investment in this sector. President Obama welcomed India's ambitious solar energy goals and encouraged India to continue its efforts to increase trade and private investment in this sector. President Obama conveyed the potential availability of U.S. Government official financing in this area, consistent with its policies, to support private sector involvement for those entities in contributing to India's clean energy requirements.
  • Demonstrating Clean Energy and Climate Initiatives on the Ground: Additional pilot programs and other collaborative projects in the areas of space cooling, super-efficient appliances, renewable energy storage, and smart grids.
  • Concluding MOU on Energy Security, Clean Energy and Climate Change: Both countries concluded negotiations on a five year MOU to carry this work forward, to be signed as early as possible at a mutually agreed upon date.

Accelerating Climate Adaptation and Air Quality Efforts

With 2014 as the hottest year on record and with climate change impacts already bearing down on vulnerable communities across the globe, President Obama and Prime Minister Modi also announced partnerships to develop climate resilience tools and improve air quality in India's cities. Early warning systems and preparedness plans are vital to saving lives from extreme weather. The city of Ahmedabad in western India along with the Public Health Foundation of India-Indian Institute of Public Health, NRDC and others, launched the Ahmedabad Heat Action Plan, a pilot early warning system and adaptation plan addressing extreme heat in one of India's rapidly urbanizing cities.

The new US-India joint statement details the initial cooperation on climate resilience and air quality:

  • Initiating Climate Resilience Tool Development: Jointly undertaking a partnership on climate resilience that will work to downscale international climate models for the Indian sub-continent to much higher resolution than currently available, assess climate risks at the sub-national level, work with local technical institutes on capacity building, and engage local decision-makers in the process of addressing climate information needs and informing planning and climate resilient sustainable development, including for India's State Action Plans.
  • Launching Air Quality Cooperation: Implementing EPA's AIR Now-International Program and megacities partnerships, focused on disseminating information to help the urban dwellers to reduce their exposure to harmful levels of air pollution, and enable urban policy planners to implement corrective strategies for improving Ambient Air Quality in the cities keeping in view health and climate change co-benefits of these strategies.

Both countries signaled they are ready to help secure a strong global agreement this December in Paris. The strong strategic partnership on climate change and clean energy that we've seen President Obama and Prime Minister Modi building in the last six months is critical to reaching a global agreement.

(Photo credit: PM Modi meets with President Obama, by narendramodiofficial under Creative Commons licensing.)