- June 24, 2017
- Mrinmoy Bhattacharjee
The country’s foremost energy expert Dr Ajay Mathur, a member of Prime Minister’s Council on Climate Change and a key negotiator, was the Indian spokesperson at the 2015 Paris Climate Accord negotiation. Also the director general of The Energy & Resources Institute (TERI), Mathur speaks to SEL about the implications of the Trump-led US government’s pullout from the climate accord on India’s efforts to combat climate change and the domestic energy-efficiency ecosystem.
The US is the world’s second-largest emitter of Earth-warming greenhouse gases after China. With its withdrawal from 2015 Paris Climate Accord, what will be the ramifications of global efforts to counter climate change?
The US withdrawal will have two impacts: Firstly, the timetable for lowering emissions will obviously be affected. The only silver lining is that the prices of renewable and energy-efficiency products, which will bring down emissions, are declining very fast. This decline will continue. At most the US pullout will delay, but it won’t have a ‘make-or-break’ impact. People have started absorbing low-carbon technologies due to economic reasons. Coal use in the US is declining not because of the US power plan, but due to the availability of cheaper gas. Similarly, people are moving to more efficient cars and owning energy-efficient lighting for economic reasons. Secondly, the US leadership has been very effective in drawing the attention of the world’s minds to this issue and getting things done sooner than they would otherwise. It’s fairly clear that the Paris climate agreement would have been ratified in three years, but happened in one year due to the clout of the US. Now, America’s clout would be missing. As far as process is concerned, things will move not as fast as they would have otherwise.
The Paris Agreement envisaged the pledge of annual $100 billion public and private finance mobilisation till 2020 from developed countries to developing countries, to incur the cost for going green and coping with effects of climate change. Do you think that there will be stress on the kitty with the US walking out of the deal?
Certainly, there will be! The US had committed to provide $5billion to the Green Climate Fund and only gave $1billion. So, the rest of the money is not coming. This is going to be a challenge. We are especially eyeing solar energy that’s available not just when the sun is shining, but any time we need. If the money was available, we could have used it to quickly drive down the cost of technologies required to do it. Now, it will take longer.
How will the shortfall be met?
I don’t know how, but people are talking that private philanthropy could make up for some of it. European countries could also pump in more monies. In the worst situation what will happen is that the efforts of developing countries would not be accelerated.
Following US president Donald Trump’s announcement of withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord, the Indian government has reaffirmed its commitment to the agreement. How will India be able to meet its commitment, considering that the country needs access to technology and funds? What does the future hold for our energy-efficiency programmes in the lighting and electrical segments, energy storage, as well as the government’s ambition of becoming a 100% e-vehicle nation by 2030?
Over the last two to three years, the price of solar electricity in India has declined dramatically and the use of solar energy has increased substantially. Similarly on the energy-efficiency side, LED prices have fallen and the adoption of new lighting has picked up. Neither of these has used the climate funds. As Prime Minister Narendra Modi has reaffirmed, these actions are a matter of faith and are important for the nation – so that continues! The fact that India will be able to move ahead on this, I think, is beyond question. The issue is the speed. With the Green Climate Fund, we could have looked on more. The battery is very important; we have to increase performance to be able to drive down prices. But, now it will have to be done with Indian resources.
But, even the pledges that have been made by countries are not enough for the world to ensure that the temperature does not increase more than two degrees. All of us will have to do more.
What’s the future of Indo-US relationship in the climate and energy landscape? Are there any areas of cooperation that still hold promise?
In the public domain, I haven’t seen any assessment of it. We haven’t yet had any government-to-government talks in the energy area.
To be specific, the recently-launched Energy Conservation Building Code (ECBC) 2017 was developed by Union Ministry of Power and Bureau of Energy Efficiency, with technical support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) under the US-India bilateral Partnership to Advance Clean Energy–Deployment Technical Assistance (PACE-D TA) Program. Do you foresee cooperation between the two countries continuing?
My feeling is that as long as we are focusing on buildings and clean energy there will be a certain amount of cooperation that will continue. But, this is my guess. ECBC started about five years ago, and in a sense in its last stages. Everyone in the US had agreed that if one invests in energy-efficient buildings, it pays for itself.
Do you think that the situation will lead India to rise to the occasion and emerge as a global leader in combating climate change? If yes, what are the metrics on which the country will have to deliver to be able to show the path to the world?
The good thing is that an increasing number of countries are now taking ownership of delivering on their promised Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). This means that there will not be just one leader like the US in the past, but many more will emerge such as the EU, China, India, and Japan. This is very robust ownership and leadership. A metric that’s going to remain for them will be to check if they are on the track to meet NDCs and if they can make their NDCs more ambitious.
How do you foresee the role of Asian giants India, China, and Japan? What is the scope of new partnerships and collaborations?
We are seeing collaborations happening in ‘learning’. Doing PVs or LEDs in developing countries requires business models different from those in developed countries. The sharing of quick learning among the nations is an emerging trend.
How will the US pullout play out in the corporate sector across industries in India?
A huge number of companies have invested in the R&D of new technologies. They aren’t going to step out of it, now. So, in my view, the corporate commitment to technology and development will continue because of the kind of investment and commitment they have already made.
Do you think corporates will make new commitments?
I think that their commitment will ultimately be driven by economics. They will invest if they find that markets in India, China, and Europe are growing.
How far will American-headquartered MNCs go in adopting best practices and abiding by green ratings in India after the exit? Will they continue to value business-social propositions in pursuing the ratings?
The CEOs of companies that have been providing leadership are on record saying that this is important to them. I presume that they will continue to do it.
How’re you helping the government navigate the present situation?
We have to see how we will ensure responses that make sense for us, help the global agenda move forward, as well as allow a place where the US can come in when it wants to.