Modi Signals Indian Shift Toward Global Deal on Climate Change

U.S. President Obama & Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi
U.S. President Barack Obama, left, shakes hands with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi prior to a meeting in New Delhi, on Jan. 25, 2015. Photographer: Vinod Singh/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said India is ready to expand its use of renewable energy as a way to reduce greenhouse gas pollution, a signal that his government is moving toward joining an international deal on global warming.

After a meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama in New Delhi, the prime minister said that his nation along with all others has an obligation to act on reducing the fossil-fuel emissions blamed for damaging the climate.

The remarks represent a shift in India’s tone on global warming. It previously emphasized the historical responsibility of industrial nations for creating the problem, and the Indian government has been ambiguous about whether it will adopt domestic targets for reducing greenhouse gases. Modi’s comments suggest he’s ready to work with Obama on a deal in Paris in December that would for the first time require all nations, rich and poor alike, to restrain emissions.

“When we think about the future generations and what kind of a world we are going to give them, then there is pressure,” Modi said in a news conference with Obama on Sunday. “Global warming is a huge pressure.”

India is the world’s third biggest polluting nation behind China and the U.S., making Modi’s participation in the United Nations climate deal crucial. In November, Obama reached a landmark agreement with President Xi Jinping designed to bring China into a system limiting emissions.

Biggest Polluters

Previous climate accords, including the 1997 Kyoto protocol, required cuts only from developed nations. Since then, China surpassed the U.S. as the world’s biggest polluter, and India’s emissions increased rapidly. Bringing those two countries into the system that the UN envisions for Paris is essential to reaching an agreement that will involve 190 nations.

“The president has an open line with President Xi on climate and now also with Prime Minister Modi,” John Podesta, an adviser to Obama, told reporters in New Delhi. “It’s very important to elevate that to the political level so that barriers can be opened up.”

Environmental groups led by the World Resources Institute in Washington said Modi appeared to be moving toward a nationwide goal on renewables, expanding its current program of reaching 100 gigawatts of solar energy by 2022.

“This announcement builds on the recent progress on climate made between the U.S. and China,” said Manish Bapna, executive vice president of the World Resources Institute. “In setting a national renewable energy target, India will boost its economy and bring more and cleaner electricity to its people.”

Phased Out

Obama said he and Modi agreed to keep working on a phase-out of hydrofluorocarbons, a class of refrigerants that have been discovered to be potent greenhouse-gas chemicals in the atmosphere.

More importantly, he said the two established a channel for them to talk about climate before the Paris summit and that the U.S. will provide financial support for India’s solar program.

“We very much support India’s ambitious goal for solar energy and stand ready to speed this advancement with additional financing,” Obama said during the news conference at Hyderabad House. “We’re also launching new joint projects to improve air quality in Indian cities.”

Modi said he asked Obama to lead a effort to make renewable energy more accessible and affordable worldwide.

“For President Obama and me, clean and renewable energy is a personal and national priority,” Modi said at a press conference in New Delhi. “We discussed our ambitious national efforts and goals to increase the use of clean and renewable energy.”

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