When US President Barack Obama alighted from his bulletproof car on Rajpath on Jan 26, he was received by a steady drizzle before being ushered to a bulletproof enclosure for viewing the Republic Day parade. The colossal and colorful crowd showed climate-proof enthusiasm, climate-proof because the rains were not able to rein in their fervor.
Historical data of New Delhi's meteorology department shows that it rains on an average one or two days in January and not more than two centimeters in the entire month. It was not a really 'extreme' weather event but rain in that morning gave two symbolic messages - first, the inspiring leadership backed by whole-hearted people can adapt and even surmount the rare climate event. Second, it was a gentle reminder to President Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi to reflect if they needed to do more and faster than what they pledged on earlier day to mitigate climate change - the most formidable challenge of our times.
Bullet-proof enclosures could protect one from the growing violence and terrorism. The world however also urgently needs climate-proof economies. If we have to act on the findings of the 2014 assessment reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), we have to act decisively, out-of-box and not to harp on the principally stubborn and ever unyielding positions on historic responsibility. The world economies - small and big, developed and developing - have to stand together to take climate challenge head on. The IPCC report warns that the world will soon face 'severe, irreversible and pervasive' impacts.
Questions arise like how can India and the US meet their mutually agreed investment and trade targets in the midst of such impacts without urgently acting on climate change and what would be the fate of Modi's inspiring campaigns like Make in India, Skill India and 100 smart cities projects, all aimed at enhancing job potential and fulfilling aspirations of Indian youth?
The joint statement issued on the eve of India's Republic Day by Modi and Obama is a rare example of statesmanship where leaders are seeking to respond to such questions and at the same time strategising to derive a multitude of benefits for their respective people by agreeing to act on climate change.
As per the clean energy and climate package, the United States will provide support to advance India's capacity to address climate change and shift to a low-carbon and climate-resistant energy economy, while improving air quality and energy efficiency by making $1 billion available to finance renewable energy and new research and development institutes for developing clean energies in India. The US also will help India improve the efficiency of its air conditioning sector, which uses 40-60 percent of India's electricity during the hot period, often contributing to blackouts on the grid.
By declaring to make "concrete progress in the Montreal Protocol this year" on the phaseout of hydro fluorocarbons (HFCs), one of the six GHGs and more than 2,000 times more powerful than carbon dioxide, the two leaders sought to spark off the public-private partnership with A/C manufacturers to improve the energy efficiency of their products to lower cost. Improving A/C efficiency in India can save enough electricity to avoid building 120 medium-sized power plants by 2030, according to Lawrence Berkeley energy lab in California.
What's more, the two leaders recognized the need to use the institutions and expertise of the Montreal Protocol to reduce consumption and production of HFCs, while continuing to report and account for quantities reduced under the UNFCCC. Such approach smartly skirts the need for renewed negotiations to get early benefits from the existing and successful treaty of the Montreal Protocol. After all, early action on HFCs with high global warming potential but shorter atmospheric life time will avoid up to 0.5°C of warming by 2100, as per the United Nations Environment Programme.
If done quickly, phasing out HFCs can avoid up to 200 giga-tonnes of CO2-equivalent (GtCO2e). This is more than 10 percent of the climate mitigation needed to stay below the 2°C warming above pre-industrial levels. If the CO2 mitigation from improved energy efficiency of HFCs using air conditioners were added, the world would avoid more than one degree of temperature rise, apart from reducing the air pollution.
The two leaders in New Delhi engaged in extraordinary 'start-up' of their climate-venture. They could do more considering the climate-proof cheers they received. The applauds on 'bear-hug' should not make their venture complacent and cheers heard from Obama's 'Bollywood' dialogues should not let the climate pledges drown in the history. India-US partnership is sculpted to do much more.
An opinion survey conducted by the New York Times and Stanford University shows that a majority of Americans, including Republicans, consider climate change a pivotal issue in the coming presidential elections. India is on big way to transform its energy scenario by embracing energy efficiency and renewable energy. The Obama-Modi summit can accelerate a climate-proof world.