In DC, India’s Narendra Modi Tells It Like It Is

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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Washington this week to meet with President Barack Obama and address the US Congress. Representing 2 of the world’s top 4 greenhouse-gas-emitting nations, they discussed important issues for the international community, including development, energy access, international finance, and climate change.

President Obama greets PM Narenja Modi in Washington, June 7, 2016 ( Souza)

“Climate and energy is an area where both men have a meeting of minds, with some domestic political risk for both. They have both come forward and embraced an active agenda on climate and clean energy,” says World Resources Institute Distinguished Senior Fellow Andrew Light, a former State Department and White House climate advisor.

The discussion will probably be their final bilateral talk before Obama leaves office. It is part of the president’s continued international climate action campaign, which includes partnerships with China, Vietnam, Brazil, and others. But Modi’s visit to Congress may have been the most significant aspect of the state visit in terms of US electoral politics, because members of Congress have been slow (and some, intransigent) about accepting the new realities of energy technology and the science of climate change.

Before the visit, the Indian and US governments signed a Memorandum of Understanding signaling their joint purpose: to enhance cooperation between the nations and accelerate innovation on energy security, clean energy, and climate change through increased bilateral engagement and further joint initiatives for promoting sustainable growth.

Prime Minister Modi pledged to ratify December’s Paris Agreement on climate change during 2016. When India officially joins the Paris Agreement, the treaty will need only a fraction of 1% to enable it. Although the nation’s development goals include increasing the use of coal over the next 10 years or so, India is actively seeking non-carbon energy sources as well.

Arjun Pam Meghwal tweet about Modi speech to Congress, June 8, 2016 (twitter)Obama and Modi also reaffirmed their joint agreement on the Montreal Protocol to phase out powerful hydroflourocarbons (super-potent greenhouse gases used for refrigeration and air conditioning). This is especially important because India, China, Saudi Arabia, and developing countries have planned to install about 700 million air conditioners within the next decade. Says Andrew Steer, President and CEO of WRI:

“Limiting HFC emissions has greater potential for limiting warming in the short-term than any other approach, potentially avoiding as much as 1 degree Fahrenheit of global temperature rise by the end of the century.”

Other coolants such as HFO-1234YF are now available. The New York Times reports that “some analysts argue that we could avoid as much as 0.5 degrees Celsius worth of global warming by century’s end” by limiting HFCs.

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Modi and Obama also pledged to develop new finance mechanisms for renewable energy. These include the following:

  • A $20 million initiative to provide renewable electricity for up to 1 million Indian households by 2020, and
  • Another $40 million to provide financing for rural off-grid small-scale renewable energy.

Westinghouse has presented a plan for 6 nuclear reactors in India, and the two leaders fixed a one-year deadline for the deal. Says Steer:

“India’s commitment to greatly expand clean, affordable electricity is beyond doubt. The country not only has one of the boldest renewable energy targets in the world, but also one of the largest markets for wind and solar technologies. India’s renewable energy goals make it clear that incremental change is insufficient to meet today’s challenges.”

He notes that the clean energy initiatives from these two leaders “will bring mutual benefits and spur greater and faster uptake of renewable energy in India” and lauds the increased US investment from both the public and private sectors, which will help deliver more clean electricity to rural populations and communities. Four big American nonprofits are committing $60 million for off-grid renewable energy deployment in India.

Politically, India largely supports American goals in Afghanistan, the Indian Ocean, and the South China Sea; and a strong global fight against terrorism. Climate Home mentions another background discussion at the summit:

India wants to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group, or “London Group,” of 48 nations that was founded in 1974 to determine rules for trade in nuclear technologies. The US, Japan, Mexico, and Switzerland all support India gaining membership. Pakistan and China are opposed.

Narendra Modi. Prime Minister of India, speaking before US joint session of Congress, Joe Biden and Paul Ryan in background (twitter/Arjun Ram Meghwal)While Modi’s talk before the joint session of Congress yesterday met with different responses across the aisles, when the Prime Minister announced that he would increase India’s energy supply “with a light carbon footprint and a great emphasis on renewables,” he received a standing ovation.

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