The U.S.-India Green Partnership: One Year Later

Tomorrow and during Diwali celebrations, President Barack Obama will travel to India to further build cooperation between our two democracies. The President’s visit provides an opportunity to enhance the initial successes made over the past year on the Green Partnership, the clean energy and climate change agreement that was signed during the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s state visit to Washington D.C. last year

Overall, the United States and India have made significant progress in creating the foundation for a broad range of cooperative research, development, and policy endeavors on climate change and clean energy.  People at every level in both governments have been moving systematically and rapidly, to develop clean energy programs, design projects, secure the funding, and find personnel to undertake them. To build on this progress, the leaders should clearly reaffirm that climate change poses a threat to the security of both our nations.  Major outcomes for the President’s visit should be: deepened engagements on clean energy projects; prioritize cooperation on climate disaster preparedness; and increase cooperation to drive both bilateral and international climate dialogues toward action.   

Based on NRDC’s analysis of the Green Partnership over the past year, here are key findings:

  • Top leadership in the U.S. and India has helped build a strategic partnership on climate change and clean energy, with rapidly increased and broadened cooperation. Along with the Heads of State, top leaders such as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu, India Planning Commissioner Montek Singh Ahluwalia, and India Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh, have deepened their relationship through regular high-level meetings throughout the year.  Planned U.S. expenditures in clean energy projects in India in the coming years are expected to grow as high as $100 million annually, which is at least 10 times higher than levels prior to the Green Partnership.
  • Significant progress has been made on the Partnership to Advance Clean Energy (PACE), which is at the heart of the Green Partnership.  The new $100 million PACE program consists of two major efforts on research and deployment of clean technologies.  To drive research, the governments are creating a Clean Energy Research Center, a jointly-funded center that drives collaboration amongst government labs, universities, and businesses to stimulate innovation in efficient buildings, solar panel technology, and second generation biofuels.  The U.S. Agency for International Aid Development (USAID) is also working with Indian partners to accelerate deployment of renewable and energy efficiency products in the Indian market. 
  • The United States has ramped up trade missions on renewable and clean energy. Both the trade missions and the U.S.-India CEO Forum have connected U.S. businesses and investors with Indian entrepreneurs in the areas of energy efficiency, solar energy and other renewable technology. The United States remains the largest investor in India, and its levels of investment including in clean energy technologies, are expected to grow steadily.  
  • Several public and private investment groups are creating funds targeting energy efficiency and renewable energy growth. The Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) is contributing $100 million to the Global Environmental Fund’s $300 million South Asia Clean Energy Fund, 80-90% of which will be directed toward investments in India over a five year period, including projects such as solar photovoltaic projects, battery innovation, and green buildings. Also significant is the U.S. Trade Development Agency’s establishment of an Energy Cooperation Program with India, similar to its existing program with China, to promote investment in clean energy.
  • The United States and India are leading multi-governmental efforts on clean energy. In July 2010, at the first-ever Clean Energy Ministerial, the U.S. and India announced joint leadership of the Super-efficient Equipment and Appliance Deployment (SEAD) initiative, a five-year multi-country market transformation project focused on galvanizing more efficient consumer appliances, with over $25 million in U.S. funding.  U.S.-India cooperation has also been elevated through additional multi-country programs to develop best practices for smart-grids, efficient buildings, and on-line platforms to share information across partner countries.  

Clean energy and climate change solutions must be a major focus for deepened engagement between the U.S. and India, as NRDC and TERI discussed in a recent letter to President Obama and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.  Here are the recommendations for strengthening the Green Partnership:      

  • Both leaders should recognize and reaffirm that climate change poses a threat to the security of both our nations and the international community at large and continue to build U.S.-India cooperation on climate change and energy. The Green Partnership is a critical element of our two nations’ own commitments to take measures to constrain the emissions that are warming the earth’s climate.  In striving for clean energy solutions, our leaders should recognize that there is also a great economic opportunity for our two nations to cooperate so we can compete in the critical race to develop and deploy clean energy and green technologies.
  • A specific time table should be developed for implementation of the new set of inter-related projects which are now in hand, such as the Partnership to Accelerate Clean Energy (PACE) and the Strategic Dialogue on Clean Energy, so that real and measurable progress can be achieved over the next two years and beyond. In moving these new projects forward, the governments should build on the successes of existing projects as a model for agency staff interaction in the future.  Meaningful on the ground programs, such as USAID’s ten-year building efficiency program, should be a model for smart implementation of the new PACE activities.  The two governments should work harder to assure that the new programs and projects are aligned with each countries’ priorities so as to create innovation opportunities and build trust between our societies.
  • Both leaders should agree to use sophisticated information and social media technology to make the Green Partnership more effective and accountable.  India and the U.S. should create a joint web platform to gather and make accessible information about the diverse elements of the Green Partnership.  This would improve coordination both within and between our governments.  It would also facilitate the participation of business and civil society and create a public record of the Green Partnership’s activities and achievements.
  • An institutional arrangement should be established between the two countries for climate adaption measures, including disaster management and implementation of adaptation measures with a focus on water resources management, extreme climate related events, sea level rise and conservation of fragile ecosystems. A “green hot line” should be established between our nations’ public health, environmental, and emergency preparedness officials so that we can begin to cooperate in assessing and preparing for disasters related to sea-level rise, droughts, heat waves, and floods – all of which will be more frequent and severe in a warmer world.  The Green Partnership calls for collaborative efforts on climate change adaption, and now is the time to move forward in developing joint solutions. 
  • Top scientists and experts should continue to collaborate to build institutional structures on energy technology.  The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has made new investments in transformational energy technologies through its Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E).  The Government of India should consider establishing a similar organizational entity in India with arrangements for cooperation with ARPA-E. 

The President and the Prime Minister should also work to find breakthroughs in international discussions.  The President and the Prime Minister should expand the existing dialogues to create specific working groups to tackle controversial finance, trade, technology transfer, and transparency issues. The working groups should develop early resolutions to possible points of conflict, such as the adequacy of climate change funding for India and other developing countries, the possible use of trade adjustments, trade-related intellectual property limitations, domestic content requirements, limitations on foreign investment in India on clean energy, and international review of emissions data. 

The President and the Prime Minster should also discuss what steps our governments can take together to create a new approach – a new paradigm – to stimulate national actions and global cooperation on climate change.  Our leaders need to work together again as they did in Copenhagen to stop the bickering and break the stalemate. They need to support action to combat climate change in both countries and resist pressures in both societies to continue to ignore the problem, or to keep arguing and do little or nothing.  This stronger, smarter, and strategic partnership holds the promise of tackling the greatest challenges to our societies and the world.  

Co-Authored by Jacob Scherr, NRDC Director of Global Strategies & Advocacy, and Shravya Reddy, NRDC India Analyst