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Will The New BFFs Obama And Modi Finally Do Some Good For The Climate?

Posted on January 28, 2015 in Environment

By Anjali Nambissan:

The recent US-India bonhomie has the potential to set in motion some real climate action. As the world reflects on what US President Barack Obama’s three day visit to India means for the two countries, here’s a helpful suggestion…

If you ever saw the representatives of India and the United States of America interact at United Nations’ climate talks, you would never guess that the countries are on such good terms as they seem to be on right now.

modi and obama
Photo Credit

So far, the United States of America, which never ratified the outgoing Kyoto Protocol despite signing it in 1998, has maintained that pledging cuts to its carbon emissions doesn’t serve its economic interests. And swiftly points at developing countries India and China as big polluters who aren’t reducing emissions either.

India on the other hand, uses its veto power at these climate talks to stall proceedings till the principle of equity and Common But Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR) are upheld in deciding who cuts by how much.


Nothing. Polluters pollute, naysayers say nay, globe gets warmer, small island nations get even smaller, and so on.

Obama’s Asian Adventures
The last time US President Barack Obama came this side (to Asia) in November 2014, he signed a historic deal with China to jointly reduce carbon emissions. Much is being said about what could be the outcome of Obama’s three day Indian sojourn, as the POTUS heads off to Saudi Arabia next. Is an Indo-US climate deal also in the offing?

Changing the Climate
The call of the world is for India to announce its own emissions reduction targets, along the aspirational lines of US and China. But to be fair, that is unfair to the developing country with big dreams and an even bigger poor population.

Samir Saran, senior fellow and vice president at the Observer Research Foundation and Bruce Jones, Deputy Director of the Foreign Policy Program, Brookings Institute, suggest an ‘India exception’ for climate talks which could work out for everyone involved. The country has the population to compete with that of China, but not the industrial progress or prowess. India is all set to grow, while the world wants it to scale back on carbon emissions. So Saran and Jones suggest making an ‘India exception’ for climate talks to progress in Paris in 2015. They mean allowing India the liberty to grow its economy without the shackles of emission reductions, facilitated by richer countries taking on “mitigation commitments to account for India’s exceptional challenge”.

Sounds far-fetched? But it can be done. If, the US “could reapportion part of its international development budget toward India’s effort and push for greater allocations by the World Bank and other international institutions. It could create a way for U.S. cities that have successfully used clean building techniques to work with Indian cities. It could invest in Indian education in urban development that is informed by the latest science… the United States recently pledged $3 billion for the Green Climate Fund—it could work within that Fund, and within the World Bank, to ensure that a large proportion of that funding goes to India (the most critical case), and use that financing to leverage private sector and city-based contributions,” write Saran and Jones.

This would fulfil one of the tenets of the United Nations Framework Conventions on Climate Change and serve as justification for other countries to rally behind India.

And a strong India, in Asia, to counter the-dragon-that-is China would definitely not hurt US economic and strategic interests in the least.

Positive politics
On the bright side, Obama, from his speech at the G20 Summit in Australia to his latest State of the Union Address, seems to take climate change very seriously. And Narendra Modi has been pro-renewable energy development, evident from his policies as Chief Minister of Gujarat.

So it won’t be entirely dreamy-eyed optimistic to hope that the two countries could come together for some real disaster mitigating action at the Paris climate talks in December 2015.