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Top Three Climate and Energy Topics for Obama’s Visit to India

What should President Obama and Prime Minister Singh focus on when they talk about energy and climate change? Our top three.

As President Obama visits India for the first time since taking office, clean energy and climate should be high on the agenda. These issues are not only critical to long-term success on issues of trade, investment and security; they also provide one of the most significant opportunities for cooperation between the two countries.

Joint action on climate and energy can boost investment and development in both countries and catalyze the world’s efforts to combat climate change. The U.S. and India have clear differentiated capacity and responsibility in this regard. As the largest historical contributor to the problem, the U.S. should act as a global leader. India’s 400 million people without access to electricity are an illustration of its development challenges. Despite these important differences, the diplomatic, human and economic ties that bind the two nations make the case for cooperation particularly strong.

On the following three broad areas, President Obama and Prime Minister Singh can commit to a strong partnership of equals, where both countries stand to gain:

1. Clean energy and technology

Clean energy and technology have been common priority issues for governments in both countries. India has outlined its commitment to a cleaner future through the missions on energy efficiency and solar. These provide the necessary policy framework to advance ready technologies and innovations.

U.S. research combined with India’s proven success in “frugal innovation” will drive down costs of clean energy and accelerate the deployment of clean energy technologies in both countries. This should make continued cooperation even more attractive to both leaders. Entrepreneurs in both countries are also eager to engage on this front.

Recent high-level meetings between U.S. Energy Secretary Chu and India Deputy Director of the Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia have resulted in a number of agreements, MoUs and initiatives to promote technological research, development and deployment in clean energy, including on solar and energy efficiency. In addition, there also exist opportunities to promote the use of available, mature cleaner technologies in various markets from industry to rural households. According to recent research from WRI, for example, the market for clean energy products among India’s rural poor could grow to more than USD 2 billion per year.

2. Adaptation

The U.S. and India both face the challenge of bracing for the consequences of a changing climate, though the nature and intensity of those impacts will be different in each country. The two countries will share many institutional and capacity needs in order to effectively plan for adaptation, and as such, have an opportunity to learn from and support each others’ experiences. Both countries can work together to integrate adaptation into their economic and development plans. India is now crafting its 12th Five Year Plan and the U.S. Administration’s adaptation task force just released its progress report. Moreover, building on a November 2009 MoU, governmental and non-governmental actors can cooperate to bring information to local populations about climate variability, risks and resilience strategies.

3. A strong framework for international cooperation

The two leaders should build on the bilateral “Green Partnership” established in November 2009, which committed each country to cooperate on issues of clean energy, climate change, and food security. The resulting Memorandum on Energy Security, Energy Efficiency, Clean Energy and Climate Change is a promising start. Since last year, the U.S. Department of Energy and the Indian Ministry of Science and Technology have taken steps to set up joint research projects on clean technologies between U.S. and Indian institutions. Both governments should commit to continue to implement these ideas.

In addition, less than a month before the start of the international climate negotiations at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Cancun, the United States and India can lead by example. Both can restate their commitment to vigorous international cooperation. They can also voice their support for a balanced package of agreements to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and support developing countries in Cancun, one that would build on the outcome of the Copenhagen Summit in December 2009.


President Obama has called relations with India one of the highest priorities for his administration and for him as president. The extent of cooperation on clean energy and climate change will be an important measure of this commitment. The last time a sitting U.S. President visited India, nuclear energy dominated the conversation. Obama’s legacy could be clean energy and climate.

The two democracies are major trading partners that have shown the capacity to deliberate together toward positive results in other areas of mutual concern and interest, such as open government, and can achieve similar results for clean energy and climate. We are looking forward to seeing the results from this long-awaited visit.

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