global climate change

US to ratify Paris climate pact this year, but no timeline from India

Narendra Modi and Barack Obama have announced strong measures to fight ozone layer depletion and to promote clean energy in India.

India wants to fulfil its “dream of climate justice”, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in the White House on June 7 after a two-hour meeting with President Barack Obama, who reaffirmed that the United States would ratify the Paris Agreement on climate change this year. India promised to work towards this shared objective but did not commit to a timeline.

The two nations reached a major agreement to link increased financial support for India and other developing economies from a multilateral fund by amending the Montreal Protocol, a global treaty inked in 1987 to restrict and phase out chlorofluorocarbons, hydrofluorocarbons and other gases that damage the ozone layer on top of the earth’s atmosphere.

Under the Protocol, India and other developing countries were given more time to phase out HFCs, a gas used in refrigerators and air-conditioners. The final phase-out is likely to be finalised at the treaty meet in Rwanda this October.

Besides charting out a more aggressive Montreal Protocol, Modi and Obama announced a slew of measures to boost the use of solar energy in India, building on the initiatives relating to energy security and clean energy they discussed at the 2014 summit in Washington. A new $20 million Clean Energy Finance initiative is expected to mobilize up to $400 million to provide clean and renewable electricity to up to one million Indian households by 2020, the countries said in a joint statement after the summit meeting.

The two countries set aside another $40 million for a Catalytic Solar Finance Programme that will provide liquidity to small renewable energy investments, particularly in impoverished villages that are not connected to the electricity grid. This could mobilize up to $1 billion of projects, the statement said. The handholding support to Indian utilities that are scaling up rooftop solar was expanded and the countries will continue with the successful cooperation with USAID on “greening” the power grid.

Shoulder to shoulder

“We discussed how we can as quickly as possible bring the Paris Agreement into place, how we can make sure that climate financing that’s necessary for India to be able to embark on its bold vision for solar energy and clean energy that Prime Minister Modi has laid out can be accomplished,” Obama said after their meeting in the Oval Office. Modi said the two nations would continue working “shoulder to shoulder”.

After China, the US and India are the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases. The Paris accord in December 2015 aims to restrict the rise of global temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius compared with the pre-industrial era. The agreement comes into force once 55 countries representing at least 55% of global emissions have ratified it.

India and the US, among others, have already signed the Paris deal, the first in a two-step process. China, Australia, Mexico and Canada have said they intend to formally join the pact within this year. Once India ratifies the agreement, it will add critical mass necessary to implement agreement’s objectives.

Ratifying the Paris Agreement poses a challenge to India, which is trying to lift millions of its people out of poverty by rapidly growing its economy. Although it is the third largest GHG polluter in the world, India’s per capita emission was a low 1.7 metric tonnes per year in 2011-'15, compared with 6.7 in China, the largest emitter. The United States emitted as much as 17 metric tonnes per person per year during the same period, World Bank data show.

About 300 million Indians still do not have access to electricity, and most of the country’s power plants are fired by coal. To address this, the present administration has overhauled energy targets to expand renewable energy exponentially to reduce dependence on fossil fuels. India aims to install 175 gigawatts of renewable capacity by 2020, out of which 100 gigawatts will be solar.

This requires some $100 billion of overseas investment in the solar industry. The US is a big producer of solar products and India is a big market. The initiatives announced on Tuesday are positive developments in light of the unresolved trade dispute between the nations.

Nuclear development

On the nuclear front, which India sees as a cleaner alternative to fossil fuels, there were major announcements as well. Besides the country’s formal transition to the international nuclear club, Obama and Modi also welcomed the “start of preparatory work on site in India” where New York-listed Westinghouse proposes to build six atomic reactors. This breakthrough deal was keenly anticipated as it comes a decade after the US and India signed the civil nuclear agreement in 2005.

“Once completed, the project would be among the largest of its kind, fulfilling the promise of the US-India civil nuclear agreement and demonstrating a shared commitment to meet India’s growing energy needs while reducing reliance on fossil fuels,” the joint statement said.

The agreement to protect the ozone layer is being seen as a major new development. “India’s support for the Montreal Protocol may well be the tipping point that leads the world to curb these fast-growing, potent greenhouse gases,” Andrew Steer, president of the World Resources Institute, a Washington DC-based think tank, said in a statement. “Limiting HFC emissions has greater potential for limiting warming in the short-term than any other approach, potentially avoiding as much as 1 degree Fahrenheit of global temperature rise by the end of the century.”

“The agreement to bring HFCs under the Montreal Protocol is a vitally important step that will prevent emission of the equivalent of billions of tons of climate pollutants over the coming decades,” said Nathaniel Keohane, Vice President, Global Climate, at Environmental Defense Fund, a non-profit organisation.

Modi and Obama also resolved to work together at the upcoming International Civil Aviation Organization Assembly for a successful outcome to address GHG emissions from aviation. Under the leadership of the G20, the two countries will pursue strong outcomes to promote improved heavy-duty vehicle standards and efficiency in accordance with their national priorities and capabilities, their joint statement said.

This article first appeared on India Climate Dialogue.

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