U.S. – India Cooperation on Climate Change: Upping the Ante

By Guru Amrit Khalsa

Strategic Dialogue 2012

U.S.- India Strategic Dialogue in 2012. The United States and India could make strides on climate change during Secretary Kerry’s visit to India for the 2013 Strategic Dialogue in June.Source: U.S. Government Work.

As two of the top three Co2 emitters worldwide, the U.S. and India both have much to gain through further collaboration on combating climate change, while also benefiting the entire international community. Unfortunately, pressing domestic realities on both sides have too often relegated the critical issue of climate change to the proverbial ‘back burner’ of policy priorities.

In both societies however, public opinion is quite supportive of emissions reduction efforts, as Teresita Schaffer writes in India and the United States in the 21st Century. As we reflect on the annual U.S.-India Energy Partnership Summit that took place this week, the time is right to up the ante on our long-term cooperation in this vital area of mutual concern.

Climate change has not been absent from the flourishing bilateral initiatives in recent years.

The first U.S. – India Strategic Dialogue in 2010 saw the launch of the Climate Dialogue, designed to push the U.S. and India forward in multilateral climate change negotiations. Later that year, during President Obama’s visit to India in 2010, he and Prime Minister Singh “reaffirmed” the two nations “strong commitment to taking vigorous action to address climate change,” and established the U.S. – India Partnership to Advance Clean Energy (PACE).

In 2011 the second Strategic Dialogue saw the creation of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Ministry of Earth Science’s “monsoon desk” designed to share the latest monsoon prediction models.

In the Strategic Dialogue of 2012, Secretary Clinton and Minister Krishna pledged to keep exchanging best practices on low-carbon growth strategies.

What are future prospects? A large stumbling block for progress is the fact that India and the U.S. have both have an immense need for energy. As a big emerging market with rapid economic growth, India requires ever-greater quantities of energy. This past April, P.M. Singh stated that it is essential that India’s economic development be environmentally sustainable. He also pledged to double India’s renewable energy capacity by 2017, and remarked with frustration that “progress in [climate change] negotiations is painfully slow” and that “the goal of stabilizing global temperatures at acceptable levels is nowhere in sight.”

For his part, President Obama stated early this year that “I am a firm believer that climate change is real, that it is impacted by human behavior and carbon emissions, and as a consequence, I think we’ve got an obligation to future generations to do something about it.” On the other hand, the Obama Administration has embraced an All-of-the-Above Approach to American Energy, which includes fossil fuel use.  Furthermore, President Obama conceded that getting the economy back on track was his top priority, stating “I think that  . . .  If the message is somehow we’re going to ignore jobs growth simply to address climate change, I don’t think anybody’s going to go for that.”

In light of this week’s U.S.-India Energy Partnership Summit and upcoming fourth annual Strategic Dialogue this June, here are some recommendations for further action:

  • Boost emissions reduction commitments: stronger national emissions reduction targets in the U.S. and India are needed. Achieving a pledge may be more feasible if developed countries such as the U.S. take the lead with “early emissions cuts” and developing countries such as India undertake “complementary contributions,” in the form of investment in technology development and cuts to energy subsidies.
  • Export natural gas, and make an exception for India if required: Presently, U.S. energy companies are only allowed to export natural gas to countries with which the U.S. has a free trade agreement, consistent with the Energy Policy Act of 1992.Encouraging U.S. gas exports based on demand should be a high priority.  But, if U.S. policy continues to be guided by “the national interest” as deemed by the Secretary of Energy, then India should be seen through that lens, as a strategic partner of the U.S., and well within U.S. national interest.  LNG burns cleaner than coal, and thus serves an important function as a ‘bridging fuel.’ Therefore, the U.S. should add India to ‘S.192: Expedited LNG for American Allies Act of 2013,’ which will amend the Natural Gas Act to allow U.S. exporters to send natural gas to Japan and NATO allies if it is passed.
  • Collaborate with India to “leapfrog” to clean energy technology: As India’s economic star rises and development efforts throughout the country become more widespread, the U.S. should pursue every opportunity to provide technology and expertise for India to “leapfrog” directly to the use of clean energy sources wherever possible.
  • Enable Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) to operate and succeed in clean energy: Some of India’s most successful alternative-energy companies were started by entrepreneurs.  However, their success is the exception, not the rule, and expanding resources for SMEs and entrepreneurs in this market is key to developing more solutions at scale. 

Ms. Guru Amrit Khalsa is researcher with the Wadhwani Chair in U.S.-India Policy Studies at CSIS. Follow the Wadhwani Chair on twitter @CSISIndiaChair.


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