View: India needs climate bonding with US without burdening itself

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By rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement on his first day in office on January 20, US President Joe Biden signalled that climate policy will be a central pillar of his foreign policy over the next four years. A White House February 8 read out of his call with Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke of renewing “their partnership on climate change”. Indian PM, in turn, “highlighted the ambitious targets India has set for itself in the area of renewable energy”.

US effort to engage is, no doubt, guided by their evaluation of India currently, and potentially, as a “major emitter”, and expectation of “ambitious commitments”, despite India’s low emissions and low energy intensity of GDP. They believe this to be important for addressing the challenge as well as for getting “buy ins” in the US system, particularly among “climate deniers”.

The US relationship is important for India—in many ways the most important country for us for levels of trade, investment, diaspora presence, growing significance in defence cooperation, an important partner for dealing with the challenges we face on our borders and from terrorism. Given the new administration’s focus and priorities, climate-related cooperation should be developed further. This would enable us to make stronger cases for our other concerns on trade, technology access and financing. Getting success at the Paris Climate Summit in 2015 was one of the reasons that former president Barack Obama had engaged intensely with the Indian PM, and that had enabled us to make progress in many other areas. US declared India a major defence partner in 2016.

At the same time, we will need to manage American expectations to ensure that they do not unduly burden India.

India has been bold in its vision for the next stage of India’s climate evolution. In November 2020, the prime minister declared that India is ahead of schedule on its target to deploy 175 GW of renewable power generation capacity by 2022 and set out a new target of 450 GW of renewable capacity by 2030.

We must not ignore, at the same time, the deep polarization in US. Maintaining the bipartisan support for India in US should continue to be a priority. The mid- term 2022 Congressional elections, and the 2024 Presidential one could lead to shifts in US priorities. The Biden administration has undone many of the Trump era decisions. So, we should look carefully at other areas of cooperation, of interest to other constituencies and projected as contributing to the strengthening of the strategic partnership.

If we are to look at the energy sector itself, for example, under the previous administration in Washington, India and the United States made progress on natural gas cooperation. This effort was effective because it balanced Indian and American objectives, helping to bring energy to underserved parts of India, and reduce carbon emissions and pollution compared to alternatives in use. And despite the Trump administration’s unwillingness to drive global climate policy, in 2020, the US International Development Finance Corporation agreed to provide financing for two Indian renewables firms, ReNew Power and Sitara Solar Energy.

India would also need to ensure security of supply, as it looks inevitably at an ambitious growth agenda, to meet the aspirations of the large number of its youth, as well as the economic, technological and military challenge inherent in China’s five times larger GDP and continued significant growth. Other sources of energy, including domestically produced hydrocarbons, would provide that security, even as renewables are expanded. In its India energy outlook, the IEA notes that India imports 76% of its crude oil today, with reliance on imports expected to spike above 90% by 2030 as demand for crude doubles.

Many have argued that India has promising geology. We may need to look again at our framework for oil and gas exploration and if that has prevented major investments. Some of the next global leaders in oil and gas production, including Guyana and Suriname, had no promise as energy sources 10 years ago. Reports indicate cash constraints with Indian majors for significant new explorations, especially in “logistically difficult areas”. Scope for partnerships with established international companies could be looked at, and also if it adds a further dimension to the US-India strategic partnership. Speaking in Tamil Nadu on February 17, PM also reiterated need for India to reduce its energy dependence.

(The author is former Indian ambassador to the US)





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