Obama, Modi should make big moves on cli­mate

Pakistan Observer - - OPINION - Naina Lal Kid­wai

THE United States and In­dia to gether ac­count for more than one-fifth of global green­house gas emis­sions. Over the past few years, cli­mate change and clean en­ergy have emerged as cen­tral facets of our re­la­tion­ship. Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi’s visit to Wash­ing­ton this week is an op­por­tu­nity for him and Pres­i­dent Obama to build on their col­lab­o­ra­tive ef­forts in those ar­eas. Dur­ing Obama’s last trip to Delhi and Modi’s last trip to Wash­ing­ton, the two lead­ers launched a suite of new co­op­er­a­tive ini­tia­tives on cli­mate and en­ergy, from clean en­ergy research, to cli­mate risk tools, to air qual­ity mon­i­tor­ing. While promis­ing, many of th­ese new projects could use a boost to get fully un­der­way.

The two lead­ers spoke in per­son dur­ing the Paris cli­mate ne­go­ti­a­tions and on the phone sev­eral times to help reach a con­struc­tive global deal. Now that In­dia, the US, and 175 other coun­tries have signed the Paris Agree­ment, we need to direct at­ten­tion to turning th­ese emerg­ing co­op­er­a­tive ini­tia­tives to reality. The global cli­mate de­pends on it. Ur­ban air pol­lu­tion of­fers a good im­pe­tus for the two coun­tries to work to­gether. In­dia des­per­ately needs solutions for its pol­lu­tion cri­sis, and the US has tech­ni­cal know-how worth shar­ing. Each year, air pol­lu­tion kills more than half a mil­lion peo­ple in In­dia. The pre­ma­ture deaths as­so­ci­ated with air pol­lu­tion are es­ti­mated to cost more than 6% of GDP. In Delhi, it re­cently got so bad that doc­tors were pre­scrib­ing that pa­tients with se­vere res­pi­ra­tory prob­lems sim­ply move out of the city.

Last March, In­dia launched its first Na­tional Air Qual­ity Index, fol­low­ing the ex­am­ple of the US, China, and the Euro­pean Union. The index, op­er­at­ing in 23 cities so far, mon­i­tors pol­lu­tion and alerts res­i­dents when it reaches dan­ger­ous lev­els. One of the new joint ini­tia­tives an­nounced when Obama vis­ited In­dia last year was that the EPA would bring In­dia into its AIRNow-In­ter­na­tional mon­i­tor­ing pro­gram. Now is the time to move this agenda for­ward. Bet­ter in­for­ma­tion about air qual­ity will help lo­cal re­sponses, and can also be in­te­grated into for­ward­look­ing na­tional ur­ban de­vel­op­ment agen­das, such as the 100 Smart Cities Ini­tia­tive. The EPA’s pro­gram could give ur­ban planners the in­for­ma­tion and ex­per­tise they need to re­verse the air pol­lu­tion trend.

En­ergy is an­other area where the US and In­dia have a lot to learn from each other. Three hun­dred mil­lion In­di­ans lack ac­cess to mod­ern electricity. That’s equiv­a­lent to al­most the en­tire pop­u­la­tion of the US. Many thought that In­dia would rely pri­mar­ily on coal to meet this enor­mous de­mand. In­stead, In­dia is in­creas­ingly putting its faith in re­new­ables. When Modi en­tered of­fice, he dra­mat­i­cally in­creased the na­tional goals for so­lar and wind, aim­ing for 175 GW of re­new­able power by 2022.

This is ex­tremely am­bi­tious, more than double what the US cur­rently has in­stalled. All this new ca­pac­ity is shift­ing the eco­nom­ics of en­ergy op­tions. Piyush Goyal, In­dia’s en­ergy min­is­ter, said in April that power from new so­lar plants is now cheaper than from coal plants. Thirty coun­tries, in­clud­ing the US and In­dia, have pledged to double their in­vest­ment in clean en­ergy R&D by 2020. Separately, the US-In­dia Part­ner­ship to Ad­vance Clean En­ergy pro­gram has been grad­u­ally ex­pand­ing in scope and am­bi­tion. The two lead­ers will hope­fully move for­ward and fi­nal­ize the co­op­er­a­tive ini­tia­tives on cli­mate they’ve an­nounced over the past few years. Both coun­tries should also prom­ise to for­mally join the Paris Agree­ment this year. That’s the next step in the process and would be a de­ci­sive sig­nal to the global com­mu­nity to fol­low suit.

This week’s visit is an op­por­tu­nity to so­lid­ify the steps that Obama and Modi have taken over the past few years and energise the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the US and In­dia. And if our two coun­tries act de­ci­sively, a more sus­tain­able and pros­per­ous fu­ture is pos­si­ble for us all. The writer is a mem­ber of the Global Com­mis­sion on the Econ­omy and Cli­mate, she was for­merly Chair­per­son HSBC In­dia and first In­dian woman to grad­u­ate from Har­vard Busi­ness School. — Cour­tesy: USA To­day

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