Mumbai: The US's special envoy for climate action, John Kerry, is on a three-day visit to India to discuss climate finance and action under the bilateral Climate and Clean Energy Agenda 2030 Partnership. The partnership, launched in April 2021, aims to provide financial and technological support to India to meet its Paris Agreement goals on transitioning to renewable energy by 2030.

This is not the first time India and the US have come together to advance climate goals. In 2009, India and the US launched the Partnership to Advance Clean Energy (PACE), to accelerate low-carbon economic growth and deployment of clean industrial technologies, through sharing of knowledge and technology. PACE mobilised $2.5 billion (Rs 18,382 crore) in private and public investment in clean energy deployment in India. In 2016, both countries launched a $7.9 million (Rs 58 crore) PACEsetter Fund to provide grants for innovations in clean energy solutions.

So what does the more recent partnership mean for India? The previous India-US partnerships focused on financial and technological support from the US to India to transition to a clean energy market, whereas the current partnership sets clear domestic targets on greenhouse gas emissions and renewable energy deployment for both countries, Kanika Chawla, senior programme lead at the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW), told IndiaSpend.

Under the new partnership, the US has set an economy-wide target of reducing its net greenhouse gas emissions by 50-52% and India has set a target of installing 450 gigawatt of renewable energy by 2030. Achieving India's renewable energy transition goals by 2030 would require investment of $2.5 trillion (Rs 183 lakh crore), a February 2021 report by the Center for American Progress and the CEEW projected, recommending that both governments set up a US-India Green Transition Finance Initiative to mobilise investment.

"The Indian renewable energy market is far more developed because of PACE and so the current collaboration focuses on levers that can sustain that momentum--finance and technology applications for decarbonising end-use sectors, that will contribute much of India's growing energy demand," Chawla told IndiaSpend.

Indo-US partnership and equity in combating climate change

Kerry's visit comes at a time when both India and the US have been battered by extreme weather events. Tropical storms, typhoons and hurricanes such as Ida, which hit the eastern United States on August 29 and left at least 50 people dead in six states, are increasing in intensity due to global warming, a study published on the US climate information and data portal found this March. The increase in the frequency, extent and severity of wildfires in the US is also attributable to climate change, as per the US Environmental Protection Agency.

India, the fifth most vulnerable country to climate change, has been witnessing increasing extreme weather events, including flash floods in Uttarakhand, increasing cyclones on the western coast and heatwaves in Rajasthan and Delhi in 2021 so far. More than 75% of India's districts, home to 638 million people--nearly half the population--have been identified as hot spots for extreme climate events. India also faces a risk of a 2.5-4.5% hit to annual gross domestic product from impacts of extreme weather.

While all countries are affected by climate change, a "global phenomenon but with local consequences", their contribution to global warming differs. India is among those countries whose historical responsibility for climate change is marginal compared to that of developed countries like the US. For instance, India accounted for 2.6% of the world's cumulative carbon emissions between 1850 and 2010 whereas the US accounted for 28% over the same period, according to the World Resources Institute.

The common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities [CBDR] framework, part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, adopted at the Rio climate summit in 1992, recognises this inequity. While wide cooperation among countries is needed for an effective international response to climate change, the response of individual countries must be in accordance with their CBDR and their social and economic conditions, the framework specifies.

To ensure equity in bearing the economic costs of responding to climate change, the UN framework envisages that developed countries like the US support the costs of pursuing ecologically sustainable economic development by developing countries such as India, through funding and transfer of green technology.

At the recent BRICS conference on August 27, India's environment minister Bhupendra Yadav also emphasised the need for "collective global actions against the environment and climate challenge, guided by equity, national priorities and circumstances, and the principles of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities".

To date, there has been little consensus among developed and developing nations on how to operationalise equity, but the new partnership can change that, experts say. "The current partnership represents an opportunity to demonstrate sustainability centered development," said Chawla.

"This partnership is also an opportunity to go beyond financial and technological support," Navroz Dubash, professor at the Centre for Policy Research, told IndiaSpend. India is uniquely positioned as a developing nation with climate vulnerabilities and development needs, yet one also part of the global effort towards a green transition, to demand more action from the US, he said.

Since ratifying the Paris Agreement in 2015, India has taken several initiatives, including setting up the International Solar Alliance and putting in place the National Hydrogen Mission to promote green hydrogen. Domestically, India has a lot more to do to transition to clean energy, which requires institutional reform and not just financial support, says Dubash. "India still has coal-dependent regions like Jharkhand and Chattisgarh and India's state owned power distribution companies or discoms are financially unviable which is a hindrance to the clean energy transition".

Internationally, "India needs to step up and ask the US to do more--in terms of furthering their goals and reducing their emissions and we should be willing to do more to keep up with that. This sort of virtuous cycle has not been a part of India's climate agenda yet," said Dubash.

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