Obama backs India’s clean energy goals

US President Barack Obama has pledged financial support for India's revamped solar energy targets and "made a personal commitment" with Prime Minister Narendra Modi to pursue a strong global climate agreement in Paris.

In a bilateral effort to tackle climate change, India confirmed on Sunday (25 January) that it would establish goal for the overall share of renewable energy in its energy mix, boosting the country’s solar energy capacity by 33 times to 100GW by 2022.

Obama, who has taken a presidential trip to India for the nation’s Republic Day celebrations, has offered to help finance India’s ambitious solar energy target, with an estimated $100bn of investments needed over the seven-year period.

“We very much support India’s ambitious goal for solar energy, and stand ready to speed this expansion with additional financing,” Obama said in a joint press conference with Modi on the first day of his three-day visit to New Delhi.

Paris 2015

A new wind energy target of 60GW by 2022 is also now under consideration – which would also require around $100bn in investments – as India looks to focus on renewable energy, build smarter cities and curb urban air pollution.

Both Obama and Modi also agreed continue working on global efforts to phase-out hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), and will co-operate closely on climate change over the next year to achieve a successful outcome at the Paris 2015 summit.

“The Prime Minister and I made a personal commitment to work together to pursue a strong global climate agreement in Paris,” Obama said. “As I indicated to him, I think India’s voice is very important on this issue.”

This follows a major deal announced between the US and China last November which will see China cap its emissions output by 2030 and the US cut its emissions to 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025.

Ongoing engagement

Commenting on the announcement, World Resources Institute managing director Manish Bapna said: “In setting a national renewable energy target, India will boost its economy and bring more and cleaner electricity to its people. This announcement demonstrates a transition from intention to an action plan for execution.

“India’s move to allow import of foreign-made solar panels also opens a major new market for America’s growing renewable energy industry.

“The Obama administration is demonstrating a real commitment to work with multiple major countries to drive greater international action on climate change. Ongoing, direct engagement between President Obama and Prime Minister Modi can set the stage for a higher level of cooperation in the lead up to a global climate agreement later this year.”

Nuclear breakthrough

Obama, who today becomes the first US president to attend India’s Republic Day parade, also unveiled a “breakthrough understanding” with Modi to unlock billions of dollars in potential nuclear trade.

Though short on specifics, the agreement will make it easier for US and foreign firms to invest in Indian nuclear power plants by amending Indian law which currently holds suppliers, designers and builders of plants liable in case of an accident, making companies loath to invest in the country’s nuclear plants.

While any proposed nuclear power reactors will take many years to complete, coal remains plentiful and available in India. The nation has the world’s fifth-largest coal reserves and, according to one government model, coal will continue to account for more than 60% of the country’s power capacity until 2030 in a best-case scenario.

Obama in India: What it means for climate action

Luke Nicholls

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