Can India and the United States Bridge the Climate Gap?

April 13, 2024 Topic: India Region: Asia Tags: IndiaNarendra ModiClimate ChangeEnergy

Can India and the United States Bridge the Climate Gap?

Both India and the United States have set ambitious 2030 targets for climate action and clean energy.

India-U.S. relations have witnessed highs and lows in the last decade. Both are natural partners with shared values and a common strategic agenda, including defense, security, counter-terrorism, energy, technology, education, and healthcare. However, in the realm of climate change, the convergence of interests has been rather slow. This lull can be attributed to a variety of factors.

More than four-fifths of India‘s population live in districts prone to climate-induced disasters. Rising temperatures, shifting rainfall patterns, decreasing groundwater levels, retreating glaciers, intense cyclones, and sea-level rises can lead to major crises for agriculture, livelihoods, food security, health, and the economy. However, Indo-U.S. cooperation on climate change can potentially make transformative changes in some fundamental ways.

In April 2021, at the Leaders’ Summit on Climate, both countries launched a new high-level partnership titled the “U.S.-India Climate and Clean Energy Agenda 2030 Partnership.” This envisages bilateral cooperation in the current decade to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. Both India and the United States have set ambitious 2030 targets for climate action and clean energy. The United States has set an economy-wide target of reducing its net greenhouse gas emissions by 50–52 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. India, on the other hand, has set a target of installing 450 GW of renewable energy by 2030, which was later upgraded to 500 GW.

These are highly ambitious goals, but also are critically required climate actions. The April 2021 joint statement underlined that through collaboration, both countries aim to demonstrate how the world can align swift climate action with inclusive and resilient economic development, considering national circumstances and sustainable development priorities. The partnership has proceeded along two main tracks: the Climate Action and Finance Mobilization Dialogue (CAMFD) and the Strategic Clean Energy Partnership.

Later that year, in September 2021, both countries launched the CAFMD, refurbishing a range of existing processes under the same theme. Further, in October 2022, a ministerial dialogue on the U.S.-India Strategic Clean Energy Partnership (USISCEP) was held in Washington, DC. Under the USISCEP, both countries aim to address the multiple crises through consultations on global energy markets, efforts to strengthen collective energy security, and deepening technical engagement to support economy-wide decarbonization. Both have also been taking stock of the initiatives, including joint research and development on smart grids and energy storage, new collaboration on carbon capture, utilization, and storage technologies, and the potential to explore collaboration on other technologies under the U.S.-India Partnership to Advance Clean Energy-Research (PACE-R).

To meet projected growth in electricity demand over the next twenty years, the rapidly developing India would need to add a power system the size of the European Union’s, according to the International Energy Agency’s (IEA’s) India Energy Outlook 2021. This has to be done along with transitioning from coal to renewables. That’s a herculean task and will not be achieved anytime soon, as coal accounts for roughly half of India’s total installed generation capacity. However, the key is to stay on course with assistance from countries like the United States.

India is looking for a comprehensive energy partnership with the United States that includes all forms of energy: coal, crude oil, natural gas, and nuclear power, as well as technology related to clean fossil fuels, smart grids, energy storage, and renewable resources. India has assured that the Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) target of 450 GW renewables and 500 GW non-fossil capacity by 2030 would be met. However, this needs to be seen in the context of the varying achievements made by different states in renewable energy resources. While four states in the countryTelangana, Rajasthan, Karnataka, and Gujarathave met and surpassed their targets for 2022, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, and Madhya Pradesh are lagging. To achieve the 2030 target, India will have to install renewables 2.5 times faster. This illustrates the challenges posed by factors ranging from land availability and environmental impacts to policy challenges, finance, and sustainability.

These challenges include the sharp increase in commodity prices and volatile markets, which make energy less affordable. A reliable electricity supply is still unavailable for many consumers, leading to continued reliance on traditional fuels. Financially ailing electricity distribution companies pose another set of challenges. Persistent underperformance by most state-run electric power utilities has slowed India’s interest in decarbonizing the economy. Power sector reforms will have to factor in the promises demonstrated by private sector distribution to improve the operational and financial performance of the distribution firms.

The larger question, however, pertains to the gap in policy and research on climate action. Climate policy-making—like foreign policy—is seen as a closed decision-making process within the purview of an elite club that is largely inaccessible to the public. Scholars have argued that since it is formulated and implemented by state agents, foreign policy fully belongs to the field of public policy studies, whose approaches have proved relevant in analysis. Still, it remains exclusive for several reasons. The emergence and relevance of non-state actors, sub-state entities, and supra-state organizations in international politics, as well as climate considerations, are compelling factors that underline the need to rethink foreign policy as public policy.

Climate policy presents a test case of India’s commitment to global issues of importance. It tests India’s ability to work through the inefficiencies of central and state governments, the intricacies of decision-making processes, the development and livelihood issues of the affected population, and the need to put a transparent, consultative, and inclusive process in place. Cooperation with the United States would help develop the technical expertise for green transition, research and development initiatives, joint ventures, and the building of platforms for collaboration between the policy-making community, academia, technical experts, ground-level administrators, and self-help groups. It would also go a long way in bridging the climate disconnect in debate and practice between the two powers.

Dr. Shanthie Mariet D’Souza is the Fulbright-Nehru Visiting Chair in Public Policy at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Follow her on X: @shanmariet.

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