Webinar: United States and India as Partners in Climate Action: The Clean Energy Agenda
About the Event: The Centre for Public Policy Research (CPPR) organized a webinar on “United States and India as Partners in Climate Action: The Clean Energy Agenda” on 17 June 2021 in collaboration with the U.S. Consulate General, Chennai.
Key Speakers: Dr. Jessica Seddon, Global Lead for Air Quality at the World Resources Institute and a Research Fellow at Princeton University and Prof. A. Damodaran, former Environmental Fellow with the US Environmental Protection Agency (U.S.E.P.A.) and a Visiting Scholar at the University of California at Berkeley under the U.S. – Asia Environment Program in 1994.
R Edsley Neoson Daniel, Research Fellow, CPPR moderated the session.
Purvaja Modak, Research Fellow at CPPR introduced and concluded the session with a vote of thanks.
The event pivoted on US India collaboration on climate change and finding the path to reduce greenhouse emissions.
The opening session had the Consulate General, Judith Raven giving her opening remarks about the palpable effects of climate change in the form of extreme weather conditions that the world has been witnessing on a frequent basis. She emphasised the need for businesses, civil society organisations and individuals to come together, apart from the usual discourse of government to government efforts, as the stakes couldn’t be higher. She mentioned the potential of green energy and how it could potentially benefit governments that invest in clean energy.
Dr. Jessica Seddon opened by talking about the increasing temperature levels in Death Valley, a place in the United States and noted how climate change is essentially impacting our ability to survive. Boston, for instance, is predicted to go underwater in 10 years. Likewise, Mumbai. Other factors such as usage of energy and the disastrous impact of fossil fuels on everyday life reflect where we are heading, which has a spillover effect on human development, economic growth etc.
She emphasised that firstly, any collaboration requires recognition of different energy histories of both countries which remains a sine-qua-non for any constructive effort. Secondly, this overarching issue cannot overlook other pressing challenges of the day, including post COVID recovery. Thirdly, issues of health and human development must be roped in alongside climate change.
She talked about an instance of how India has the potential for solar energy but is hampered by the supply chains that exist outside of India. She stressed on the need to build more secure supply chains, and develop innovation and manufacturing in order to be able to utilise solar energy. For innovation to come along, she pointed out the important lessons of collaborating with development hubs like universities and commercialising their innovations in order to be able to achieve India’s potential. Secondly, collaboration must be done to chalk out a possible way for managing, distributing these new forms of energy. Lastly, we need to take a systemic look at production and use of energy, and how one can develop, for instance, infrastructure and transport facilities that are less energy intensive and efficient.
Professor Damodaran opened with his experience of working on semi arid ecosystems around Bangalore. He shed light on his experience of working with the USEPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency) and how some of the counties in the US had adopted fantastic water filtration techniques, which help eliminate energy dependence. He recollected his experience of working in Coffee Plantations in Chikmagalur, where a lot of water was wasted in the cleaning process. Again, the adoption of the cleaning technique he borrowed from USEPA worked much better to save the natural resource.
He further spoke about how some of the renewable forms of energy are land intensive and in his experience, there was a clash between biodiversity concerns and climate concerns – a challenge that must be resolved with effective collaboration.
R Edsley Neoson Daniel asked regarding issues that needed to be addressed in the short term, to which Professor Damodaran replied that infrastructure remains on the radar. He stressed on infrastructure that isn’t merely resilient to climate change but also doesn’t go against biodiversity. He further emphasised on developing efficient transport and developing hydrogen energy alongside other forms of clean energy.
R Edsley Neoson Daniel directed a question to Dr. Jessica vis-a-vis grid planning to which she responded one cannot proceed with ‘out-of-sight, out-of-mind’ energy usage. She pointed out the enormous amount of energy we use right now in the form of videos, NFTs. bitcoin and the entire operation of the digital world which we just ignore. Unless we start being much more conscious in terms of pricing, information that we absorb and respond to, we are not going to get our targets. She stresses that as an intervention to this, particularly in India, it always comes back to distribution or the consumer facing side which is the last section of the grid. She suggests that changing the consumer facing infrastructure for charging is the complicated part of the energy sector transition as it intersects with people’s daily lives and if we can get that transition, dealing with the backend would be much easier.
She further stressed that the distribution sector in India is always the place where any effort to change any prospects of grid stability comes down to incentives and structure of the distribution sector and that is where we should focus.
Apart from that she suggested that to be able to spot and manage power usage pattern, there has to be an investment in IT and distribution grid management which could go very far at creating behavioural incentives as well as back and forth feedback for both the production and distribution side of power.
She further made a strong point with regard to pricing with safeguards for the lowest income because India will not achieve human development goals without stable and reliable access to productive power at a higher stable level.
On being asked what can India learn from the U.S. to create demand side incentives for mass adoption of these kind of technologies, Prof. Damodaran responded that in India we have had struggles with the power generation incentives. He said that incentives could be given but there would be market failures if those incentives didn’t work. He gave an example of India’s renewable energy certificate programme which could have done a lot better.
He recalled how way back in the 1990s the U.S. had started sulphur dioxide trading which was a cap and trade system and it worked reasonably well over a period of time. Today the U.S. also does a fair amount of cap and trade for pollutants and greenhouse gases. He said that there is a lot that we could learn from the U.S. experience.
What India should focus on, according to him, was in intra institutional collaboration and that is what we should explore in the India – U.S. Clean Energy Agenda which would focus not just in technologies or hardware transfer but also on enabling research which could address the questions on why incentives fail and why they succeed and the conditions for it. He also talked about how India’s distribution companies are not in a good shape to focus on renewable energy and hence we need more intra institutional understanding and collaboration.
To a question on how the U.S. – India partnership can help India to rebuild its economy in a post – covid world in a low carbon pathway, Dr. Jessica responded that we need to “build back better” and the new and upcoming infrastructure needs to be geared towards low carbon patterns because the infrastructure decisions that are made now will be the legacy infrastructure for the next few critical decades. But the important question here, she said, is how can we create more rooms for such new decisions. She emphasised that the wealthier and better off nations should provide rooms for higher initial capital investment. She pointed out that it was a disappointment as this was not a prominent commitment in the recent G7 meeting.
However, she also stated that the well off nations could only provide rooms for capital investment, but money doesn’t buy innovation or instant know-how. That is why we need a global collaboration to be able to spread infrastructure, development know-how faster than it comes to the private sector. She wondered what it would be like if we had top global engineers paid for public innovations and social returns. She says that it is a good place to put money, in buying and reallocating the talent that we know exists on the planet for public good. She added that global engineering is complicated but completely doable.
Prof. Damodaran’s response on the question of low carbon pathway in the post covid world was that we should see that the lengthy transition between fossil fuel, especially coal in case of India, to renewables is shortened. If we are talking of a 2030 scenario and renewable energy, we should also see that there is a serious effort to curb coal based emissions. He emphasised that the only option for us to bring about a concrete action is to shift from coal in an accelerated manner and bring in our capacities of renewable energy.
To a question on what would be the three things that the speakers would advise the leadership team that is going to operationalize this joint partnership, the first one according to Dr. Jessica was respect and acknowledgement of our history in terms of climate change along with the recognition of the history of US – India relations. She stated that any cooperation between the two countries should start out from a position of respect from both sides.
Secondly, she stated that her advice would be towards a recognition of lessons that we can learn from each other and a considerate look at our shared problems. We need to look into joint challenges and move towards action. Third action piece according to her was pooling the lessons in making sure that we are more than the sum of our parts. Also, how we harness human capital on both sides should be more than the sum of our parts and the leadership team should look at the best we have done in research and science collaboration for public good.
First advice by Prof. Damodaran was a transition from coal to renewable energy. Secondly, he suggested that we should focus on how carbon market preparedness can take place and how we can certify them in both India and the U.S.
Lastly, he argued for a way by which we could bring about reforms to the global capital markets. He suggested the need for a way in which we could involve central banks or monetary institutions in climate change initiatives.
This Event Report is prepared by CPPR Interns, Namita Sharma and Juhi Jain