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Greening U.S-India Relations

Jacob Scherr

Posted July 16, 2009

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Yesterday Hillary Clinton discussed her upcoming trip to India at the Council on Foreign Relations, noting that "external affairs minister Krishna Nai will lay out a broad-based agenda that calls for a whole of government approach to our bilateral relationship." Meera Shankar, the Indian ambassador to the U.S., also recently spoke about the transformation in Indo-U.S. relations. As we observed last month, Hillary is calling for a "dramatic expansion in our common agenda." Because climate change is one of the gravest threats to security of both our nations, cooperation on climate and clean energy should be a central element of this new approach.  

Clinton said she will be accompanied by Todd Stern, Special Envoy for Climate Change. She plans to visit a LEED-certified building in India, which she called "a perfect example of what India would be capable of doing" to achieve "win-win approaches" to climate change. The Secretary of State is right - and India is already making important  strides on climate solutions.

India's first LEED Platinum building, the CII-Sohrabhji Green Business Center, was built in Hyderabad in 2003. It was a public-private partnership that included technical assistance from the U.S. Agency for International Development ("USAID").   Most likely, she will visit one of the two LEED Platinum buildings in Gurgaon, near Delhi (Wipro and ITC Green Centre).   India has at least fifteen LEED certified buildings, with plans for 1000 buildings by 2012.

USAID involvement in kick-starting modern green building in India is a terrific example of the potential for a much higher level of Indo-U.S. green collaboration on climate and clean energy.

What other opportunities exist?  Our initial recommendations are contained in a letter Peter Lehner, our Executive Director, sent earlier this week to Secretary Clinton. 

Peter first points out why India has a critical role to play in addressing climate change and outlines what India is already doing to address greenhouse gas emissions:

"Currently, India has the second-fastest growing economy in the world, and is the world's fourth-largest emitter of greenhouse gases.  Yet, more than 400 million Indians lack access to electricity.  The middle-class is projected to grow from 50 million today to over 500 million by 2025.  Energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions could skyrocket.  Between 1990 and 2005 India's carbon dioxide emissions grew by 65 percent, and they are projected to increase by 70 percent by 2020 under a business-as-usual scenario.

At the same time, it is important to recognize that India is already taking significant domestic measures to constrain its emissions.  Last year, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh released The National Action Plan on Climate Change, outlining eight core national missions through 2017.  For example, the plan sets an ambitious target of 200,000 MW of installed solar capacity by mid-century - which would make India a world leader in solar power.  Similarly, India's Bureau of Energy Efficiency has adopted policies including an Energy Conservation Building Code that will reduce India's greenhouse gas emissions 20 percent by 2021 as compared to a business-as-usual trajectory.

With support from the US Agency for International Development, the Indian government has launched programs that improve energy efficiency in existing buildings and new municipal buildings.  The Asia Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate has also implemented innovative projects in India such as demand side management and renewable energy entrepreneurship.  State governments have also taken significant steps, such as Himachal Pradesh and Haryana's programs to distribute free compact fluorescent lights to their residents...

Business associations and civil society organizations are also actively encouraging a lower-carbon future in India.  The Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) has issued a report, "Building a Low-Carbon Indian Economy," which recommends implementation of domestic measures that would reduce India's greenhouse gas emissions 27 percent below business-as-usual projections by 2030.  CII's Green Building Centre was also the first LEED platinum building outside of the US and continues to promote advancements in green building materials.  The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) recently launched Light Up a Billion Lives, a village-based solar lantern program for alternative lighting.  The non-profit Development Alternatives promotes innovative biofuels projects to provide electricity to villages.  Overall clean energy investment in India increased to $3.7 billion in 2008 with a 12 percent growth from 2007.  These sustainable energy investments will also provide more reliable energy services for multinational information technology companies operating in India....."

Peter then lists the following opportunities for collaboration that hopefully will be discussed during the Secretary's visit:

Support policy and technical collaboration for key missions identified in India's National Action Plan on Climate Change.  The key missions include: solar energy power generation; enhanced energy efficiency for all sectors and promoting demand side management; energy efficient urban planning focused on public transportation; water efficiency projects; Himalayan ecosystem protection; sustainable agriculture; and strategic knowledge regarding climate change.

Expand and intensify US-India energy dialogue.  Currently, the US-India renewable energy working group has met only once.  Expanded discussions on energy efficiency, demand side management, and cleaner sources of energy are critical to building a sustainable energy future.

Renew and increase funding for USAID's Energy Conservation and Commercialization (ECO-III) program.  Through ECO-III many successful energy efficiency projects have been launched in India, including registered LEED green buildings and state implementation programs of the Energy Conservation Building Code.  Although funding for the ECO-III program has been considerably reduced, renewed investment in ECO-III and/or successor programs are essential to promote low-carbon growth and international technology and funding transfers.

Address energy poverty through deployment of energy efficiency and renewable technology.  Black carbon, a component of soot emitted by wood-burning cook stoves and diesel fuel, is a major contributor to climate change globally and constitutes a substantial portion of India's global warming pollution.  The wood-diesel fuel mix also drives deforestation and results in severe air pollution, especially for the rural and urban poor.  Similarly, these at risk populations are disproportionately affected by both water and energy shortages resulting from inefficient supply systems.  Programs such as USAID's water/energy projects should be expanded and include efforts to reduce black carbon, a low-hanging fruit mitigation measure.

Cooperate with India to build its climate change institutional capacity. The US should begin now to help build institutional capacity in India to utilize effectively anticipated increases in technology transfer and international financing for climate change mitigation and adaption after the Copenhagen conference.  There is an identifiable need to assist the development of measurable baseline emissions and the impact upon emissions from policy measures in India.  There is also need for greater cooperation on developing innovative technologies, such as integrated photovoltaic systems, ground source heat pumps, indirect/direct evaporated cooling, and energy efficient data centers.  In addition, increased cooperation on science and policy focused on climate health and adaptation to climate impacts are needed given that India's poor are anticipated to be among the hardest hit by projected global warming effects.  For example, the US Geological Survey is a leader in mapping and monitoring water scarce resources and could share expertise with Indian hydrologists to identify populations vulnerable to climate change impacts.

The letter concludes with the hope "for a transformation of US-India cooperation on climate and clean energy" which will put us on a "path to safer, healthier world."

(Co-authored by Bidisha Banerjee, 2009 Cameron Speth Fellow, NRDC)




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