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High Potential for U.S.- India Collaboration on Energy

Two countries that once eyed each other warily, India and the United States are building trust through mutually beneficial partnerships on climate and energy.

That was one of the messages that came out of an event held at the World Resources Institute on September 22nd featuring some of the leading thinkers on U.S. - India relations.

Panelists included Jamshyd Gondrej, WRI board member and Chairman, CII Climate Change Council and Chairman & Managing Director, Godrej & Boyce Manufacturing Co. Ltd; Suresh Prabhu, Member of Parliament & Former Cabinet Minister for Industry, Energy and Environment, Government of India; Rick Duke, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Climate Policy, U.S. Department of Energy; Ambassador Frank Wisner, Foreign Affairs Advisor, Patton Boggs LLP; Former US Ambassador to India; and Manish Bapna, WRI Executive Vice President and Managing Director.

India faces significant energy-related challenges. India is still very much a developing country, with 42 percent of the population living below $1.24 per day. As the country grows into an economic and diplomatic leader, it is trying to meet the energy needs of its citizens while minimizing the impact on the environment, particularly as India is likely to be hard hit by climate change.

As Gondrej said, “India’s development is moving ahead rapidly, but if we don’t do it in a sustainable way, I think we are asking for immense problems and trouble for India.”

On the other hand, the United States is highly developed but is looking for opportunities to change its energy mix and compete in the clean energy economy.

A Global Climate Deal

Both countries have firm stances on their roles in the United Nations Convention on Climate Change. In general, India believes it should be held to a different standard than developed countries (like the United States) that historically caused global emissions to rise, and the United States believes a legally binding agreement should apply symmetrically to developed countries and emerging economies such as India. Despite their positions, both countries are committed to achieving a global climate deal.

“The U.S. and India must work together on a global deal,” said Minister Prabhu.

Bilateral Partnerships

In the meantime, bilateral and private sector partnerships are stimulating discussion that may help bolster the relationship between the countries.

Rick Duke, of the U.S. Department of Energy, saw promise in the Major Economies Forum and the related Clean Energy Ministerial meetings convened by Secretary of Energy Steven Chu. Duke described new partnerships on appliance and building efficiency standards, a high-potential area for collaboration.

“The government of India has joined the U.S. on a suite of initiatives which we believe can collectively add up to at least 500 power plants avoided by 2030,” said Duke.

Private Sector Opportunities

Panelists also detailed the role of the private sector in catalyzing efficiency improvements in the two countries, citing examples such as the consumer demand for efficient appliances in India and interest in smart grid technologies.

Referring to India’s star rating system for appliances, Gondrej said, “Consumers in India today are lining up to buy five-star rated air conditioners and refrigerators...All of us in the appliance industry in India are not able to keep up with the demand for these products.”

The event captured the sense that India and United States’ growing relationship may be strengthened by collaboration on energy and climate change.

As Ambassador Wisner concluded, “We’re obviously going to have different political perspectives, but I believe that the way ahead is going to be about the multiplicity of actions we engage in on both sides.”

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