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All eyes on India after Modi meets with climate council

Solar array, Puducherry, India. Creative Commons: AM Musk, 2008

Solar array, Puducherry, India. Creative Commons: AM Musk, 2008

After chairing his country’s high-level climate panel earlier this week, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has called for countries with high solar potential to work together.

India has set an ambitious goal to add 15 GW of solar power capacity within the next five years, representing a more than fivefold increase over the country’s current capacity of just under 2.7 GW. The country has also been lauded for an innovative plan to top its canals with solar panels by UN Secretary Ban Ki-moon and others.

As reported on RTCC, Modi laid out a possible collaboration between India and other nations to reduce the costs of scaling up solar power and electrifying remote communities.

Monday’s meeting of the Council on Climate Change convened 18 top Indian officials, including environment minister Prakash Javadekar; external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj; and Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

In the wake of the meeting, observers are watching closely for any hints about changes to India’s climate policies. Modi is widely expected to announce new action on global warming during his upcoming meetings with US President Barack Obama, but details are still scarce on what a package would entail.

In November, President Obama reached a historic climate change deal with Chinese President Xi Jinping that was the result of intensive bilateral negotiations over the span of several months.

The two biggest emitters of greenhouse gas agreed to partner in a wide-ranging package of plans to fight climate change, including a commitment by the US to reduce its emissions by at least 26% percent below 2005 levels by 2025 and Chinese promises to increase the share of non-fossil fuels in the country’s energy mix to around 20 percent by 2030 and peak carbon dioxide emissions by 2030.

Following the deal, the world’s eye has been increasingly turning on India, the third biggest emitter. An Indian official quoted in the Times of India summarized the situation this way: “[The] outcome of the Indo-US deal in renewable energy sector will guide India in coming out with its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) in June.”

Because of its large carbon footprint—which is expected to grow rapidly in the coming years—and its traditional role as the voice of developing countries in the annual UN climate talks, the proposal India submits iin June will have an outsize impact on the Paris conference at the end of 2015.

Nevertheless, expert sources expect that Modi’s climate announcement will not be anywhere near the scale of China’s. In the past, India has resisted releasing a timeline for capping emissions and is unlikely to change their position during Obama’s visit.

Instead, it is likely that India will keep up a sense of momentum by announcing reduction targets for HFCs, incredibly potent greenhouse gases used for refrigeration and air conditioning, or by striking a deal on new financing for renewable energy projects that could boost the Indian solar manufacturing sector.

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