Tales from the Trail

Green energy aspirations for Obama’s India visit

October 27, 2010

INDIAWhen Barack Obama heads for India next month, he’ll be carrying a heavy policy agenda — questions over the handling of nuclear material, the outsourcing of U.S. jobs and India’s status as a growing economic power, along with regional relations with Pakistan and Afghanistan. But Rajendra Pachauri, the Nobel Peace laureate who heads the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, hopes the U.S. president has time to focus on clean energy too.

Even as Pachauri and the U.N. panel evolve — and as Pachauri himself weathers pressure from some quarters to resign — he urged Obama to work on U.S.-India projects that he said would enhance global energy security.

Given India’s red-hot economic growth rate — 8 or 9 percent a year, Pachauri told reporters during a telephone briefing — he said it makes sense for the United States to work with India to head off an expected soaring demand for fossil fuels.

MEXICO/Over the next two decades, Pachauri said, “If we continue on a business-as-usual path, India will be importing something like 750 million tons (that’s about 5.25 million barrels) of oil a year … and possibly over 1,000 million tons of coal. So I think India has to make some very radical shifts and bring about a movement towards cleaner energy technology.”

While the two countries have launched a few initial programs in this area, Pachauri acknowledged that “nothing of great substance has been achieved so far.” Obama’s passage to India could change that, he said on the call, which was set up by the environmental group Natural Resources Defense Council.

Areas ripe for cooperation include collaborative research and development in new areas of energy technology, as well as “a much more liberal approach” to investments in clean energy technology, Pachauri said.

Low interest financing for Indian clean energy projects, including large-scale solar projects in the Indian states of Rajasthan and Gujarat, would also be welcome, he said.

Pachauri discounted fears that there will be scant global action to stem climate change without U.S. legislation to curb greenhouse emissions.

INDIA-ECONOMY/INFLATION“I think there’s a lot that’s happening in the U.S. which doesn’t necessarily follow from legislation,” he said, pointing to an initiative, now under challenge, in California and in some U.S. cities aimed at curbing emissions. “So while of course legislation would make things more effective, I don’t think one needs to wait for that. I think the executive branch does have a lot of powers, particularly now that the EPA can effectively regulate emissions of greenhouse gases.”

He said the benefits of cutting emissions — enhanced energy security, more jobs, less air pollution at local levels — are all relevant to India as well as the United States.

“I do believe that the two countries being democracies, where clearly you can’t use any sort of dictatorial methods to bring about change, have much in common in being able to come up with approaches that would certainly have a great deal of complimentarity. I believe for a variety of reasons there is much we can do together, but I don’t think one needs to wait for legislation before acting in the right direction.”

Photo credits: REUTERS/Kamal Kishore (A boatman on the Yamuna river near the Taj Mahal, February 1, 2004.

REUTERS/Gerardo Garcia (Rajendra K. Pachauri, Director General of The Energy and Resources Institute and Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, at annual meetings of Inter-American Development Bank in Cancun, Mexico, March 20, 2010.)

REUTERS/Ajay Verma (Local residents wait with their empty containers to collect kerosene in the northern Indian city of Chandigarh October 7, 2010)

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