NEW DELHI – Last week’s China-U.S. climate agreement between the world’s top two polluters puts pressure on India, No. 3 on the list, to become more energy-efficient and should encourage investment in renewable energy.
But the pact is also a relief for India because it acknowledges the long-held view among developing economies that industrialized nations have been emitting heat-trapping gases for many more decades and so should shoulder more of the burden for tackling climate change. Emerging economies argue they should have fewer constraints to pollute as they grow.
By showing the world’s two largest economies are working together toward a common goal with different efforts, the breakthrough agreement signals greater global cooperation over the contentious issue. That eases tension that could help global climate talks while also raising expectations for India to step up its efforts, experts and activists say.
And if China and America are going to work to develop cheaper forms of renewable energy, that will expand the industry in ways that would benefit India.
In the pact, announced in Beijing during President Barack Obama’s visit, China pledged to increase its renewable energy capacity to a 800 gigawatts by 2030, double the amount today. India only has about 30 gigawatts of renewable energy capacity today.
“That target, it’s huge. It’s a very positive signal to companies in the clean energy sector” to develop more efficient and affordable technologies, said former climate negotiator Prodipto Ghosh of The Energy Research Institute in New Delhi. “This will enable India to access these technologies in a few years, and to be honest I think this impetus will actually help the world reach its overall targets.”
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been a strong supporter of solar power, overseeing the addition of more than 600 megawatts in his home state of Gujarat. But his government has said little about negotiations for the new climate treaty intended to be finalized next year in Paris.
Scientists have warned that those talks may represent the world’s last chance to get emissions in check before the worst effects of climate change become unavoidable.
China emits a quarter of the world’s greenhouse gases, the United States 15 percent and India about 6 percent.
In its agreement with the U.S. — which isn’t legally binding — China pledged to halt the increase in its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. The U.S. said it would aim to make its 2025 emissions between 26 and 28 percent lower than they were in 2005, faster than previous goals.
The deal also focused renewed attention on per capita emissions — a measure that India has preferred. By this measure, India is one of the least polluting countries, at about 1.2 tons per person.
India’s preference for the per capita emissions calculation, however, ignores the fact that around 400 million Indians still have no access to electricity at all, while hundreds of millions more are lucky to get a couple of hours a day. Experts worry that as India’s population continues to grow and more people become wealthy, its share of global emissions will skyrocket.