Despite the handshake between Barack Obama and Narendra Modi, no deal was done on Indian emissions reductions. Photo: Government of India Press Information Bureau.
100GW solar support in US-India climate talks, but no emissions cuts
27th January 2015
India made no promises to cut its CO2 emissions from coal power stations, writes Nivedita Khandekar, and refused to reveal its ambitions for the Paris climate talks - but Obama promised US support for its plans to roll out 100GW of solar power.
Instead of focusing on emissions and cuts alone, the focus should shift to what we have done for clean energy generation, energy conservation and energy efficiency.
Hopes that India and the US might announce ambitious plans to co-operate in tackling climate change have proved wide of the mark.
A meeting here between the visiting US president, Barack Obama, and Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, showed India determined to follow an independent line.
One agreement reached was on nuclear power: the two leaders smoothed the way for India to import US technology for any future nuclear plants, under a deal to limit the legal liability of US suppliers in the event of a nuclear power plant catastrophe.
Yes to renewables, no to emissions cuts
Modi and Obama also announced action to advance India's transition to a low-carbon economy, and India reiterated its goal of increasing its solar target to 100 gigawatts by 2022, which the US said it would support.
Modi went on to urge nations with the greatest solar energy potential to join India in innovation and research to reduce the cost of the technology and make it more accessible.
But on emissions, there was no repeat of the recent agreement between the US and China reached just before the UN climate talks in Lima last December.
"The agreement that has been concluded between the US and China does not impose pressure on us", said Modi. "India is an independent country. But climate change and global warning itself is huge pressure."
He offered no indication of a reduction in the use of coal, which currently generates most of India's power. However Modi did agree to phase out the use of the 'super-GHG' hydrofluorocarbon gases used in refrigeration and foam blowing - while insisting that India demands "equal treatment" in cutting GHGs.
Anu Jogesh, a senior research associate with the Centre for Policy Research's Climate Initiative, said: "There was a lot of buzz in policy circles and the media that there might be some kind of announcement, not on emission cuts per se but on renewable energy. However, apart from the nuclear agreement, little else has emerged."
But other analysts argue that there has been little time yet for Modi and Obama to develop a strong working relationship, and that it could be premature to dismiss the outcome of this meeting as disappointing.
What does this presage for Paris 2015?
India's Ministry of External Affairs said that Modi and Obama had "stressed the importance of working together and with other countries to conclude an ambitious climate agreement in Paris in 2015." But there was no sign of any advances on key issues.
Before last month's UN climate talks in Lima, Peru, India said it had put in place several action plans for achieving Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), which are key elements of the climate agreement due to be concluded at the next round of talks in Paris in December.
However no details of India's INDCs emerged during Obama's visit, as officials continued to maintain that its INDCs will be announced "at an appropriate time with specific contributions."
Last week Modi hinted at his country's thinking on climate when he called for a paradigm shift in global attitudes towards climate change - from "carbon credits" towards "green credits":
"Instead of focusing on emissions and cuts alone, the focus should shift to what we have done for clean energy generation, energy conservation and energy efficiency, and what more can be done in these areas."
India is the world's third largest GHG emitter, after China and the US. However it generates only two tonnes of CO2 equivalent per capita, compared with 20 tonnes in the US and eight in China.
Nivedita Khandekar is a Delhi-based independent journalist who writes on environmental, developmental and climate change issues for Climate News Network and other news media. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @nivedita_Him .
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