India-US Synergy towards a Greener Future

Harshita Singh 
5th June 2021

Picture Courtesy: PTI, New Delhi

The United States and India are the second and third largest emitter of green house gases respectively, which when seen from the lens of climate action reflects the significant role they can play in averting climate change related issues which transcend national boundaries. India and the USA have evolved as partners transcending the conventional domains of cooperation while recognizing climate change as a central pillar of strategic partnership. The ambitious pathway being paved by both the countries has the potential to advance global climate progress, affirm global climate leadership and create sustainable markets. Thus, an India-US partnership on climate change will go a long way in transitioning towards a greener future.

The phenomenon called Shifting baseline syndrome, suggests that each generation accepts their version of nature, plunders it, and then leaves the next generation to accept the depleted version and so on. This idea of accepting it as a ‘normal’ and continuing to live with it continues to be challenged with the rising cognizance of the disastrous consequences of climate change. The area of convergence amidst the various sections of the communities is rising internationally, with scientists, theorists, environmentalists, policymakers coming together to defeat the monster of our own making, climate change.

President Trump’s callous attitude when it came to climate change left several American allies despondent. With the advent of the Biden administration, there seems to be a substantial improvement in the US’s approach to climate change, most prominent of that is the US rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement and the appointment of a Special Presidential Envoy for Climate Change. John Kerry, who serves as the Special Envoy, has in the past served as the Secretary of State under the Obama-Biden administration. Kerry’s four-day visit to India in April signified the potential between both the states to address the rising climate crisis and global ambitions heading into the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) later this year, and beyond. The statement released by the State Department reflected a “broad consensus on the value of enhanced bilateral cooperation across multiple areas, including mobilizing finance to support clean energy deployment at scale; cooperating on adaptation and resilience; and collaborating on innovation and scaling up emerging technologies such as for energy storage, green hydrogen, clean industrial processes, and sustainable urbanization and agriculture”.

The recently concluded Leader’s Summit on Climate organised by the United States saw the coming together of more than 40 world leaders, accounting for 80% of global emissions, defining their goals and targets. The Leaders proclaiming the ambitions of their countries holds extreme importance as the Summit was conducted in the run-up to the 26th Conference of Parties (COP26) scheduled to be hosted by the UK Government in Glasgow in November. The summit showed the seriousness and potential of several states in dealing with climate change at domestic levels while entering into inter-state working. The United States submitted their new Nationally determined contribution (NDC) under the Paris Agreement at the Summit, with a target to achieve a 50-52% reduction from 2005 levels in economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. The United States also presented a plan to double, by 2024, their annual public climate finance to developing countries relative to the average level during the second half of the Obama-Biden Administration. This plan if implemented at its core, will act as a major source for facilitating greener transition for developing countries lacking the required resources.  At the Summit, India reiterated its target of installing 450 GW of renewable energy by 2030. The Joint Statement released by the India-US on Launching the “India-US Climate and Clean Energy Agenda 2030 Partnership throws light on the two tracks the Partnership will proceed in: Strategic Clean Energy Partnership and the Climate Action and Finance Mobilization Dialogue, which will build on and subsume a range of existing processes. This partnership highlights the importance of mobilizing financial resources for the greater strategy that unites the bilateral interests especially mobilizing finance to support clean energy deployment, promulgating innovation with the help of Research & Development bodies from both the states, and further on adopting resilient techniques. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) reports that access to scalable, long-term, low-cost debt capital is critical to the growth of the renewable energy sector and for India to reach its renewable energy goals.

While the world battles with several threats, ranging from COVID-19, climate change, public health deterioration, economic hardships- a responsible sense of leadership and strategic partnership between India-U.S. will ease a large share of distress. Potential programs on green stimulus efforts, climate resilience, and disaster management could help amplify a green and resilient recovery.

The way in which climate change is intricately connected with the overall progress of the state makes it crucial for policymakers and those executing the policies to determine the best way possible for furthering the progressive agenda. Over the years,  India-U.S. have collaborated in solar energy initiatives and it has emerged as one of the most dependable and important sources of energy production in the sector, US and India have few of the world’s largest solar power plants. This provides them with a very important area of cooperation, as solar energy has the potential to reach the majority who live far away from grid or any source of electricity. India’s seriousness for this cause is reflected in the International Solar Alliance, through which efforts are being made to help countries develop inclusive and low carbon-based development plans while promoting the solar energy missions in countries that lie either completely or partly between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn.

According to an issue brief published by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in September 2020- “India is on track to meet its Paris Agreement targets – to reduce emissions by 33% to 35% of its gross domestic product (GDP) by 2030 from 2005 levels and achieve 40% of installed power capacity from non-fossil fuels by 2030”. The Climate Action Tracker shows that India today stands as one of the few countries compatible with stabilizing temperature rise well below 2°C’, whereas the U.S. stands at Critically Insufficient. With the United States back in the Paris Agreement, these emerging trends should be duly considered, and a well-informed and planned transition will help deter the looming crisis.

The flagship program of India and the U.S., Partnership to Advance Clean Energy (PACE) seeks to accelerate the utilisation of clean energy to support the low carbon pathways and deployment of technologies based on clean energy. In a recently conducted meeting between Oil Minister Dharmendra Pradhan and his counterpart U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm, the administration’s focus on the growing advanced technologies of the US complimenting India’s rapidly growing markets was evident. Their commitment to ensuring technology exchange, R&D innovations through Partnership to Advance Clean Energy Research (PACE-R) will bolster a greener transition in the Indian state and a sustained decrease in carbon intensity at a global scale. India’s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) for the period 2021-2030, is built with an agenda to develop and eradicate poverty along with following a low carbon path. The ideals that have been put forth for this decisive decade require an unencumbered flow of technological and financial resources, especially from the U.S. Eventually, ramping up of investments and ambitions under the various international agreements will foster substantial climate action at all existing levels.

*The author is a Research Intern at the Kalinga Institute of Indo-Pacific Studies.


Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are those of the author