On Climate, Modi's Leadership Is As Heartening As Trump's Is Disheartening

India’s commitment to climate action is a bright spot in dark times.

On a whirlwind trip to India recently, I saw a nation building a path to a cleaner energy future. I met with rural women who were rising out of poverty by using solar power to farm salt in the desert. I sat down with industry leaders and scientists working to bring better, greener air conditioners to India. I spoke to finance and policy experts who are drilling down to the core of banking and lending practices to unlock financing for India's clean energy projects. And perhaps most importantly, I saw a government that was steadfast in its commitment to fighting climate change.

With Earth Day having been observed this month, and the Trump administration continuing to cling to climate denial, it's encouraging to see Prime Minister Modi of India holding fast to his country's climate commitments and clean energy goals.

[With the] Trump administration continuing to cling to climate denial, it's encouraging to see Prime Minister Modi holding fast to his country's climate commitments and clean energy goals.

As part of the Paris Climate Agreement, India—the world's third largest emitter of greenhouse gases, after the United States and China—made a strong pledge to cut its emissions intensity by 33-35% of 2005 levels by 2030.

A bold expansion of renewable energy is a key part of India's plan. The Indian government set massive renewable electricity targets of 100 gigawatts of solar and 75 gigawatts of wind by 2030. In the past few years, solar installations in India have rivalled that of the California, Massachusetts and New Jersey — the top three solar states in the US—combined. Last year India opened the largest solar plant in the world, built in just eight months, and immediately followed up with plans for an even larger plant, which has already attracted bids for supplying energy at a mere $0.04 cents per kilowatt/hour. No wonder the government cancelled plans for four coal-fired power plants and is opting for clean energy instead.

The Indian Railways, the agency that runs India's legendary rail network, recently announced its intention to create 1 gigawatt of solar power, largely by installing solar panels on the roofs of 7000-plus stations as well as atop train cars. Work has already begun at hundreds of stations. An estimated 22 million people ride Indian trains every day. What a great way to bring solar power to the people.

India also played a major role in shaping the groundbreaking climate agreement forged in Kigali, Uganda, last year, where more than 140 nations agreed to phase out climate-polluting hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) gases, typically used in air conditioners and refrigerators. Air conditioning manufacturers are eyeing India as a booming emerging market—the country is expected to install 100 million air conditioners over the next decade. As part of its commitment to reducing climate pollution, the government is working with industry and NGOs, including NRDC and our partners, to make sure that new air conditioners use energy efficiently and utilise more climate-friendly coolants.

The clean energy boom is a global reality, and it continues to be the way forward for nations like India that are carving out a place in the new low-carbon economy.

India's goals are big, its commitment clear and its growth commendable. But in order to succeed, India will need billions of dollars in private investment for clean energy. Public funds alone cannot get it done. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is working closely with partners to find the best ways to scale up clean energy financing in India. Establishing a green bank that can use public funds as a tool to attract private capital is one way to secure more funding for clean energy development. Around the world, green banks have raised $22 billion in private funds for clean energy. Green bonds, which can attract long-term institutional investors, are another financial tool that can help raise private capital for clean energy projects.

At a time when the Trump administration's climate-denying leanings are becoming alarmingly clear, it's heartening to see leadership coming from other parts of the world. The clean energy boom is a global reality, and it continues to be the way forward for nations like India that are carving out a place in the new low-carbon economy. Perhaps India's energy minister Piyush Goyal said it best when he was asked how Trump's stance on climate change would affect India: "Clean energy is not something that we are working on because somebody else wants us to do it. It's a matter of faith and the faith of the leadership in India. Nothing on earth is going to stop us from doing that."

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