Rahul Gandhi, considered by many as next Prime Minister of India and who considers Dr. Singh as his guru, said by intruding in the press conference being held by his political party, of the ‘ordinance’ approved by Dr Singh before he left for Washington DC. He said, “This is complete nonsense, and it should be torn up and thrown out.” The ordnance was about letting the convicted parliamentarians from seeking reelection. He then said that he would restate his view, and did so. This was extreme embarrassment for Dr. Singh back in Washington DC.
Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh’s far reaching futuristic energy related agreements in Washington DC with President Obama were unfortunately eclipsed by the happenings in New Delhi back home. Dr. Singh’s steady but persistent progress in improving India’s current account deficit (CAD) cannot be overlooked by the trendy news in the media on ‘current attitude deficit’ among the political parties.
Indian Prime Minster Manmohan Singh joined President Barack Obama last week in White House meeting to seal a solid deal on climate change. “Recognizing that climate change is a defining challenge of our time and that there are mutual benefits to intensifying cooperation,” the two leaders announced an India-U.S. Climate Change Working Group “to develop and advance action-oriented cooperation, as well as to begin an enhanced dialogue focusing on working closely in developing an ambitious climate change agreement for the post-2020 period….”[i] The U.S.-India climate cooperation also will include a focus on improving the efficiency of air conditioning including room ACs in India, which has the potential to avoid as many as 120 large power plants of 500 MW each, and to help avoid brownouts and blackouts. More importantly it has potential to significantly reduce the import of fuel for power plants there by reducing the vexing issue of Current Account Deficit that Finance Ministry and New Governor of Reserve Bank is trying to tackle. The preliminary calculations based on study by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Berkeley, USA, shows that such reduction in import of the fossil fuel can be much more than planned under the increase in import duty on Gold and other electronic appliances.
Air conditioners could add as much as 140 GW to peak load by 2030. The new U.S.-India Collaboration on Smart and Efficient Air Conditioning and Space Cooling is intended to advance policies and innovation to drive mass deployment and rapid uptake of high-efficiency cooling equipment and technologies to capture significant energy savings, potentially avoiding the need to build as many as 120 large power plants.” [ii] In the civil nuclear power sector, President Obama and Prime Minister Singh agreed to accelerate the full and timely implementation of the India-U.S. Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement and establishment of two nuclear plants in India to further reduce the dependence on fossil fuel for the power plants.
The crowning achievement of the bilateral summit, among the proactive measures to tackle climate change, has been to immediately convene India-US Task Force on the dangerously potent hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) to discuss, inter alia, multilateral approaches to phase down these gases which has Global Warming Potential of nearly 2000 times more than carbon dioxide and whose consumptions and emissions are growing at the rate more than 15%.
The Chinese President Xi Jinping, Prime Minister Dr. Singh and President Obama over the last few months have stepped up their ‘ trinity’ leadership on the complex global challenge to bring the climate change agenda on top of the ‘To Do’ list, signaling to the world that ‘ yes, we can’ deal with the complex climate issues. The leaders also noted that they “are committed to support the full implementation of the agreed outcomes under the UNFCCC with its ongoing negotiations. They strongly welcomed the efforts of the Secretary-General of the United Nations to mobilize political will through 2014 toward the successful adoption of a protocol, another legal instrument, or an agreed outcome with legal force under the convention applicable to all parties by 2015, during COP-21 that France stands ready to host.”
The bilateral agreement includes cautious but definite practical steps and multilateral approaches for dealing with climate change that include using the expertise and the successful institutions of the Montreal Protocol to phase down the consumption and production of HFCs, based on economically-viable and technically feasible alternatives, with provision of the incremental cost for the technology transfer and grace period for the developing countries like India and China. This is another principle of ‘ common but differentiated responsibility’ that India has advocated and defended even under the Montreal Protocol, where India has already benefitted from USD 300 million and grace period of 10 years to adopt and assimilate the latest technologies as compared to the phase out time table of the developed countries.
The two leaders also envisioned the possibility that HFCs remain within the scope of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and its Kyoto Protocol for accounting and reporting of emissions of these powerful Green House Gases. The partnership between India and USA has topped up the cascading developments this year: in May the countries of the Arctic Council endorsed action on HFCs by the Montreal Protocol at their ministerial meeting in Sweden. Also in May the EU proposed a decision of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) encouraging parties of the Montreal Protocol to phase down HFCs. Then in June U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to support this approach. This was followed by support for the proposal from the small island nations of the Pacific in August, from the thirty-four countries of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants in early September, and most recently, from the leaders of the largest economies in the world, the G20.
Phase-outs of Ozone Depleting refrigerants under the Montreal Protocol have revolutionized the refrigeration and Air-conditioning industry globally. The momentous improvements in energy efficiency for example in Refrigerators and central air-conditioning have already reaped major economic and environmental benefits, particularly in emerging economies of India and China. The industry is already heralding similar benefits for the alternatives to HFCs that would play an important role in catalyzing much needed energy efficiency gains.
Interestingly, the bilateral agreements of President Obama, first with President Xi Jinping and then with Prime Minister Singh that includes HFCs issue comes few days ahead of the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report, prepared by more than 800 scientists from 84 countries, was released in Stockholm after scrutiny of 195 governments. The report reconfirmed the global warming and science even with even more certainty. The bilateral agreements are therefore symbols of the precautionary principle that India has been championing from 1992 Rio Summit. IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri explained earlier this week in an interview with the Financial Times that “Himalayan glaciers are melting so fast they could affect the water supplies of nearly a billion people in South and South East Asia within 22 years… which affect, as we had estimated, 500m people in south Asia and 250m people in China.”
UNEP and the World Meteorological Organization and other scientists estimate that cutting HFCs and the other short-lived climate pollutants can cut the rate of global warming in half, cut Arctic warming by two-thirds, and cut warming in high elevation regions of the Himalayas and Tibet by at least half.
A step towards averting global climate crisis, taken in quiet diplomacy, by Prime Minister Dr Singh and President Obama has unfortunately been gone unsung.
(Rajendra Shende is former UNEP Diplomat and now Chairman of TERRE Policy Centre, a think-tank on climate, food and energy security.)
Note: Edited version of this blog appeared through IANS in Oct 2013
[ii] Press Release, White House Office of the Press Secretary, Fact Sheet: The United States and India – Strategic and Global Partners (27 September 2013).