Obama Trip to Delhi a Chance to Expand US-India Partnership on Clean Energy

This Saturday, President Obama will depart for his first state visit to India. He and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will discuss many issues, but climate change and clean energy remain high on their priority list.

When these two leaders met at the White House last November, they launched the Green Partnership—a collaboration to research and expand clean energy technologies in both nations.

This partnership has garnered almost no media coverage, but it’s off to a successful start. One Department of Energy official said the U.S.-India relationship has been moving at the “bureaucratic speed of light.”

U.S. and India cooperation on clean energy projects in India is expected to grow to $100 million annually—10 times higher than levels prior to the partnership. And two major jointly-funded programs are soon to be launched to spur innovation in green building, solar panels, and biofuels in U.S. and Indian labs and businesses.

This is an impressive beginning, but we can go farther.

This week, Dr. Rajendra Pachauri of The Energy and Resources Institute in New Delhi and I sent a letter to President Obama and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh calling on them to ensure the Green Partnership produces even more wide-ranging results.

They have an enormous opportunity here. The two largest democracies in the world could help create a model for working together to build a low-carbon economy—a model of effectiveness and accountability for other nations.

Together, the United States and India have the capacity to make this a reality.

The United States has the highest rate of per capita global warming emissions in the world, but we also have the technological know-how to design the next generation of solar panels, efficient products and advanced cars.

India, meanwhile, has emerged as a major economic and environmental leader. It has the second fasting growing economy next to China, but that growth will lead to more to more global warming pollution. India has committed to constraining its emissions and expanding renewable power. And because of India’s position in the developing world, the bilateral cooperation between India and the U.S. could help break the current barriers between developed and developing countries in the climate treaty negotiations.

The Green Partnership provides a framework for deepening and expanding what both nations are doing to address the climate crisis. But we need President Obama’s and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s sustained leadership to take it to the next level.

In our letter, Dr. Pachauri and I suggest a few ways to start, including setting a firm timetable for new clean energy projects and making information about the myriad elements of the Partnership fully and easily accessible.  

But first and foremost, President Obama and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh must state again that climate change poses a grave threat to the security of India and the United States, and the world. And they must reaffirm the urgent need for both nations to embrace low-carbon solutions.

If these two giants can make their commitment to work together a reality, there is real hope that we can tackle the challenge of climate change.