Obama's Meeting with India's Prime Minister: Another Chance to Advance Clean Energy

With the international climate negotiations in Copenhagen just weeks away, Obama has chance to push real, concrete action forward by making clean energy and climate solutions a central part of his meetings with India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

As the world's fourth largest emitter of greenhouse gases, India will be a critical player in Copenhagen. Its economy is rapidly expanding, and its emissions could skyrocket with the projected growth of its middle class from 50 million to 500 million in the next few decades.

Prime Minister Singh understands that climate change is already having an impact on his people, and his government has taken several steps to address it, including releasing its National Action Plan on Climate Change in 2008. On Friday, I learned from a call with IPCC Chairman R.K. Pachauri that the Indian Cabinet just approved a bold plan for generating 20,000 megawatts from solar energy by 2022.

I also heard about many of India's clean energy measures when I talked with India's Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh and its Renewable Energy Minister Farooq Abdullah last month.

We met in Washington at the U.S.-India Energy Partnership Summit to talk about opportunities for our two nations to collaborate and promote innovation in efficiency and clean tech. We were joined by former Vice President Al Gore, Senator John Kerry, and U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, Dr. Pachauri, and other influential leaders.

Both Minister Ramesh and Minister Abdullah were impressive in their commitment to move ahead on clean energy solutions, particularly efficiency. It is estimated that 80 percent of the infrastructure that will exist in India in 2030 has not been built yet. This creates an extraordinary opportunity to build green now rather than retrofitting later.

Still, Minister Ramesh and Minister Abdullah made it clear that while India is taking steps to reduce its emissions, it is looking to the United States to make its own commitments as well. They reminded us that our per capita emissions of carbon pollution are about 20 times higher than India's. At the same time, India must meet the needs of its poor majority, including more than 400 million people who do not have access to electricity.

Ideally, as those 400 million people gain electricity, they receive it in the cleanest, most efficient way possible. But there is an inescapable equity issue here. All nations much commit to confronting global warming, but the scale of the response has to fit the country. And because the United States has contributed the lion's share of climate-disrupting pollution historically, we have a moral responsibility to take the lead in reducing our emissions now.

Yet even as America focuses on setting our own targets for reductions, we must collaborate with other nations in order to address this global crisis.

I hope that President Obama uses his meetings with Prime Minister Singh to develop clear and concrete plans for the upcoming Copenhagen negotiations.  I also hope they will announce major bilateral agreements on advancing clean energy.

For instance, as I wrote in a letter to President Obama, NRDC and our India Initiative would like to see the U.S. and Indian governments provide $150 million for to launch an U.S.-India clean tech fund that would provide capital for joint innovation, technology transfers and licensing of patented breakthroughs. (See my colleague Anjali Jaiswal's post for more details on possible bilateral agreements.)

These talks between President Obama and Prime Minister Singh present an opportunity to help set the stage for real action in Copenhagen. I hope these leaders seize that opportunity, because it will benefit not only our two nations, but the entire world.