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US calls for Saffron Revolution in India's energy sector

September 02, 2014 20:02 IST

Climate change and US-India collaborations in renewable energy resources will be up for discussion at the US-India energy summit coinciding with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Washington, DC, later this month, reports Aziz Haniffa.

The fifth annual United States-India Energy Partnership Summit, scheduled to coincide with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Washington, DC, for his White House Summit with US President Barack Obama, is envisaged to take the United States-India strategic partnership to new heights, particularly vis-à-vis new energy collaborations.

The summit, to be held from September 30 to October 1 in Washington, DC, is organised by The Energy and Resources Institute North America and Yale University, which in the past years has featured the likes of former US Vice President Al Gore, Secretary of State John F Kerry, successive US and Indian energy secretaries and environmental ministers, respectively, among other senior American and Indian officials.

The summit is expected to be a significant platform for US-India ties on several fronts, especially in attempting to alleviate some of the concerns that have arisen since the failed World Trade Organization talks on the Trade Facilitation Agreement even as Kerry and US Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker were conducting the US-India Strategic Dialogue in New Delhi and meeting Modi.

Climate change and US-India collaborations in renewable energy resources are high priority issues that will be up for discussion as India continues to grow as a major carbon emissions proliferator, though still trailing the US and China.

R K Pachauri, president, TERI NA (The Energy and Resources Institute, North America) and chairman, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said, “Energy security is critical for both the US and India. The recent geopolitical developments in the region from where we import the bulk of our oil, can lead to a drastic increase in oil prices. The devaluation of the rupee has added to the crisis.”

He added, “We should be investing more on renewable energy sources in the coming years. India and the US must work together, both in energy security as well as on policy fronts, so that we can bring in some positive changes.”

The summit’s focus, the organisers said, would be on bilateral cooperation in the energy sector and related areas. To reinforce this cooperation, top business bodies, including the American Chamber of Commerce in India, the US-India Business Council, and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, have partnered to take this process forward.

During the recent Pre-Summit Roundtable, participants deliberated on new avenues to strengthen energy cooperation between the two countries, especially in renewable energy, energy access, green buildings and conventional fuels.

Hosted annually since 2009, the summit will look at ‘Accelerating Resilient Growth and Development,’ while addressing various issues related to energy efficiency, security, access and technology. Stakeholders from various sectors will discuss new collaborations in clean technologies and rene­wable energy, green buildings and sustainable cities, decentralised energy access, alternatives such as shale gas, etc. Climate change will form a key component of the discussions, with the proceedings at the United Nations Climate Summit, Septe­mber 23, providing significant inputs to the deliberations.

US Secretary of State John F Kerry. Photograph: ReutersOn the eve of his trip to India in July to co-chair the US-India Strategic Dialogue, Kerry (left) had served notice that climate change would be a priority issue with India and put the ball squarely in India’s court.

“For millions of Indians, extreme weather and resource shortages are not future threats; they are here now. They’re endangering their health and prosperity and security every single day,” he had said in a major address at the Center for American Progress. “In India’s largest rice-producing region, West Bengal, the monsoon rains have been 50 per cent lower than average this year. This comes after the monsoons all but failed last year in several Indian states, helping to cause one of the worst droughts in a generation, affecting 120 million Indians.”

He said, “In parts of northern India, armed bandits have imposed what amounts to a water tax, demanding 35 buckets a day.  So believe me, it is not hard to measure the ways in which climate change every single day is already a catalyst for instability… And while parts of India suffer from a once-in-a-generation drought, others suffer from -- guess what -- historic rains. When I arrived in India last summer, Uttarakhand was grappling with historic floods that killed more than 5,000 people. So climate volatility is clearly taking a toll on India’s population.”

“And so is pollution,” he added. “Of the 10 cities in the world with the worst air quality, six are in India. Each year in India, the effects of air pollution cause nearly 1.5 million deaths.”

Kerry had said "just as we know the 'down sides,’ we also know ‘the solutions': It’s not some magical, unreachable, untouchable thing out there. It’s not pie in the sky. It’s energy policy."

And forging these solutions, he said, was a huge economic opportunity for both US and India.  “The United States can help India find and develop new sources of energy through renewable technologies and greater export capacity for liquefied natural gas,” he said. “Already, we’ve brought together more than $1 billion in financing for renewable energy projects. And with this funding, we helped to bring India’s first 1,000 megawatts of solar power online.

"But we need to build on the US-India Civil Nuclear Agreement, so that American companies can start building and can start providing clean power to millions in India. And we need to build on the $125 million investment that we’ve made in a Joint Clean Energy Research and Development Center.”

He also lauded Modi for understanding the urgency of this and calling for a Saffron Revolution, because "the saffron colour represents energy."

He added, “We can provide 400 million Indians with power without creating emissions that dirty the air and endanger public health. And by working together to help an entire generation of Indians leapfrog over fossil fuels, we can actually set an example to the world.”

"For millions of Indians, extreme weather and resource shortages are not future threats; they are here now. They’re endangering their health and prosperity and security every single day."

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC