By Dean Scott
June 8 — India Prime Minister Narendra Modi, fresh on the heels of a pledge to swiftly ratify the Paris climate pact, told members of Congress June 8 that his country seeks more cooperation from the U.S. as it embarks on a mammoth effort to expand its use of solar and other clean energy sources.
Speaking to a joint session of Congress, the prime minister, who was first elected in 2014, called for “strong U.S. support” for an International Solar Alliance launched in November by India and France at the Paris climate talks. The alliance now includes about 120 nations working to cut the cost of clean energy technologies to spur faster deployment in all countries and boost investment in related technologies such as battery storage.
Along those lines, Modi said in his speech that the U.S. also should join India in broader cooperation on “new ways to increase the availability and use of renewable energy.” India's leader made headlines in 2014 when he vowed to add 100 gigawatts of solar energy to India’s grid by 2022.
Modi’s comments came on the heels of June 7 discussions with President Barack Obama that concluded with India’s clearest signal yet that the world's third-largest emitting nation will join China and the U.S.—the No. 1 and 2 emitters, respectively—in seeking to get the 2015 Paris climate pact entered into force early, perhaps by the end of 2016.
China has vowed to accede to the Paris deal before it hosts the September Group of 20 meeting in Hangzhou.
The June 7 declaration from the two leaders essentially reiterated a U.S. pledge from earlier this year to implement the agreement domestically by year's end and added that India similarly had started “to work toward this shared objective.”
Both countries “recognize the urgency of climate change and share the goal of enabling entry into force of the Paris Agreement as early as possible,” it said.
Ahead of the December Paris talks that produced the first international climate deal to include actions from developed and developing nations alike, India pledged to cut its carbon intensity per unit of gross domestic product in the range of 33 percent to 35 percent by 2030, compared to 2005 levels.
It also pledged that by 2030 it would draw at least 40 percent of its energy mix from renewable energy sources.
While the Modi-Obama declaration was welcomed as India's clearest signal yet on its plans for ratifying the deal, it offered few specifics on Modi's timetable to move the deal forward in his country. Modi and Obama did not hold a joint press conference after their meeting to clarify India's approach.
In contrast to the June 7 meeting with Obama—which also yielded pledges to cooperate on global reductions in air sector carbon pollution and hydrofluorocarbons, a highly potent greenhouse gas—Modi's June 8 speech to members of the U.S. House and Senate was short on references to the climate challenge.
Instead, the prime minister cited “protection of the environment and caring for the planet” as a core value for India's 1.25 billion people, which he said is rooted in “our ancient belief” in that stewardship. His single reference to climate change was in the context of hailing global cooperation across various international organizations and summits, including the G-20 “and climate change summits.”
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters June 7 that India has been vital in ensuring the climate negotiations ended with a global agreement nearly six months ago. “India's role in that process was significant and it's unlikely that we would have actually reached an agreement in Paris last December had the Indians not stepped up and shown some leadership in making some substantial commitments,” Earnest said.
“So that really is a testament to Prime Minister Modi and his willingness to take a political risk to do what he thinks is right, not just for his country, but for the planet. And he deserves a lot of credit for that.”
Swift ratification by India is crucial to quick entry into force of the Paris deal, which hinges on whether at least 55 nations accounting for at least 55 percent of global emissions ratify or otherwise domestically approve it.
Adding India's emissions to other nations pledging action this year, including China and the U.S., will likely put nations just over that 55 percent threshold.
The U.S. plans to accede to the Paris deal using Obama's existing executive authority to negotiate international agreements and not through Senate ratification, where the Paris deal would likely be dead on arrival.
Modi's speech before a joint session of Congress was the first from a prime minister from India since 2005.
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