When President Obama and Prime Minister Modi meet next week for a state visit in Washington, D.C., climate change will be high on their agenda, as it’s been for the past two years. Between their September 2014 meeting in Washington and January 2015 meeting in New Delhi, the countries have either created or ramped up 15 bilateral programs on climate change and clean energy.
Modi and Obama can take another big step next week toward cementing this critical component of the U.S.-India relationship, and advancing the global agenda on climate and energy cooperation. Here are three things to look for:
1. A Commitment to Joining the Paris Climate Agreement
Both the United States and India have already taken the step of signing the new Paris Agreement at the UN ceremony held on April 22. The crucial next step, however, is joining it. Once 55 countries accounting for at least 55 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions formally join by depositing their “instruments of ratification, acceptance or approval” with the UN, the Agreement will “enter into force” and finally become a reality.
At this point, 17 Parties have joined, representing 0.04 percent of global emissions. The United States announced its intention to join “as early as possible this year,” along with China and others, representing nearly 50 percent of global emissions. But India has not yet done so. During the summit, Obama should reaffirm the U.S. commitment and Modi should commit to joining as well, ensuring that both countries join by the start of the next UN climate summit in November in Marrakech.
Why is this so important? Part of the reason is simply the math of getting across the finish line. It’s well known that the EU will not be able to join this year because of the slow process of approval of such a decision in their system.
But the math of entry into force is not the most important reason to do this, and there are pathways for reaching the 55 percent threshold this year that would not involve India. The most important reason would be to demonstrate that two countries that have historically been at odds in the UN climate negotiations have shifted that dynamic, and are committed to the success of the new Agreement. A commitment by Obama and Modi would further confirm that we indeed have entered a new, more cooperative phase of international climate action.
2. A Commitment to Amend the Montreal Protocol to Phase Down HFCs
One of the most important next steps that can be done for global climate cooperation is to amend the Montreal Protocol to phase down hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs. HFCs are the fastest-growing greenhouse gas, used largely in air conditioning and refrigeration, and are thousands of times more powerful as a warming agent than CO2. While not a substitute for CO2 mitigation, they are much shorter lived than CO2, and so fall into the class of “short-lived climate pollutants” (which also includes methane and black carbon) where fast action to reduce them can have a quicker response in controlling warming.
Since the early days of the Obama administration, the United States has joined with Mexico and Canada to push for an amendment to the Montreal Protocol to phase down these dangerous climate pollutants. While India has historically resisted these moves, the Modi government agreed to revive a bilateral U.S.-India task force on HFCs in 2014, and India introduced its own HFC amendment into the Montreal Protocol process. Unfortunately, the joint HFC task force has not yet met to t begin the process of resolving the differences between the countries’ amendments, and reconciling those differences is an essential step for global success.
Creating an amendment to phase down HFCs under the Montreal Protocol would be the single-biggest legally binding global measure on climate change at one stroke, potentially avoiding half a degree C (almost 1 degree F) of warming by the end of the century. Twenty-one months ago, Obama and Modi first committed themselves in a joint statement to “use the institutions and expertise of the Montreal Protocol to reduce consumption and production of HFCs” and to work out their differences through the joint task force. This time the commitment must be stronger. The leaders cannot allow their unreconciled differences to hold the world back any longer.
3. Ramping Up Clean Energy Finance for India
In India there are approximately 300 million people without access to electricity, a huge hurdle for getting people out of poverty. Modi’s commitment to universal energy access is without question, but India clearly also has choices about how it meets this necessity.
Fortunately for all of us, India now has the biggest single-country renewable energy goals in the world. Modi took the previous government’s solar target from 20 gigawatts (GW) by 2022 to 100 GW. On top of this, Modi added a target of installing 75 GW of other renewables by 2022.
What India needs most to achieve this target is support. Implementing the new solar target alone will cost $100 billion. The final cost of the current renewable energy targets, and the even more ambitious Indian pledge from Paris to increase the share of non-fossil based power generation capacity to 40 percent by 2030, will be even higher.
In the current economic climate, no collection of donor countries can meet a significant portion of this cost through official Overseas Development Assistance alone, but to expect them to do so would be missing the point. The combination of need and ambition by the current Modi government has created the biggest single-country renewable energy market in the world, and hence the biggest investment opportunity.
However, markets don’t work unless the rules that govern them are fair and efficient. From their previous summits, Modi and Obama created two cooperative institutions, the government-to-government Clean Energy Finance Task Force and the private sector Clean Energy Finance Forum designed to enhance the business environment in India and make it more secure for investment. Progress with both of these institutions has been painstakingly slow. The two leaders should push for faster, verifiable results from both of these bodies. More important, government-to-government cooperation must be expanded well beyond the United States and India. There are many institutions and countries that have promised support of one form or another to India, but there is precious little cooperation among these parties. Market reform in India should go hand-in-hand with increased donor coordination, leading to more and accelerated investment.
The stakes for failure are immense. There are far less sustainable pathways for overcoming India’s energy access problem than the current government’s ambitious plans on renewable energy. Modi and Obama can chart a cooperative course next week toward a more sustainable future for us all.