Modi’s Visit to Washington

Wilson Center

Michael Kugelman

Narendra Modi’s Washington rehabilitation is complete. That’s the chief takeaway from the Indian prime minister’s three-day visit to the U.S. capital. His agenda included a sit-down with President Barack Obamaaddressing a joint session of Congress; and meetings with top CEOs, the World Bank director, several U.S. Cabinet members, and Washington think tankers.

Mr. Modi received a hero’s welcome from elected officials when he arrived at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, and his address to Congress drew multiple standing ovations. Many people hugged the prime minister as he entered and exited. Mr. Modi has come a long way in a short time; a decade ago, he was persona non grata in Washington. He was denied a visa to the U.S. in 2005 because officials thought that he hadn’t done enough to stop anti-Muslim riots in the Indian state of Gujarat in 2002 when he was chief minister there. After he was elected prime minister two years ago, the Obama administration opted not to ban the leader of a rising democratic power critical to U.S. interests. Rather than hold a grudge, Mr. Modi impressed upon Washington his desire to deepen bilateral relations. He won over the Obama administration relatively easily, but not until this trip did he demonstrate the respect he has earned in Congress—which has been the source of several tension points, thanks to lawmakers’ criticism of India’s human rights record and visa policies that New Delhi has lambasted as discriminatory to Indian workers in the U.S.

As I wrote Monday, a major objective of both leaders was for this trip to amplify the countries’ shared valuesconvergent interests, and depth of the relationship. This was meant to help signal that U.S.-India ties are poised to remain strong whoever is elected in November. Both the joint statement issued after Mr. Modi’s meeting with the president and the prime minister’s congressional address referred to a “natural” and “indispensable” relationship; joint bedrock beliefs in freedom and democracy; and similarities between both nations’ founders. One of the largest applause lines in Mr. Modi’s  speech was his reference to the 3 million-strong Indian-American community, which is often cited by both governments as a natural bridge.

For all the talk of defense as the pillar of the U.S.-India relationship, climate change occupies an increasingly critical position as well. Climate change and “clean energy” were a long section of the joint statement, which pledged stepped-up collaborations with U.S. financing of and technology for more environmentally-friendly energy in India. The Modi administration has interest in low-carbon energy projects (though it has not said explicitly that it will pursue emissions-reduction policies). Perhaps in part because of the public health consequences of India’s air-pollution levels, New Delhi no longer reflexively argues that it has a right to pollute for economic development. India’s greater receptivity to mitigating climate change is a boon for bilateral relations.

The trip produced deals on energy and educational exchanges, but final terms were not reached on the biggest pending projects—significantly, a plan to have Westinghouse help build nuclear reactors in India advanced but isn’t complete; also still pending is an accord allowing the U.S. and India to use each other’s military facilities for refueling and repairs. Additionally, while the joint statement said the United States would join the Paris Agreement climate accord this year, it said only that New Delhi would “work toward this shared objective.” The Obama administration wants India to formally join the accord before the U.S. presidential election, moving the agreement one step closer to enforcement (at which point nations cannot opt out for a period of four years, so the next U.S. president would not be able to withdraw).

For Mr. Obama’s legacy and for the good of the overall relationship, U.S. and Indian officials will want to reach closure soon on other pending initiatives.

The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author.


On Earth Day, bring together the dreamers and the plodders on climate change


Original article can be found here:


A schism is opening between two groups calling for action on climate change: the dreamers and the plodders. The dreamers are panicked by the mountains of scientific evidence on climate change and call for a massive transformation of our energy system to keep the planet safe. The plodders advocate more realistic steps in the face of political gridlock. Of course both arguments have their merits, but until these two groups reach a consensus on how to move forward, real solutions will remain on the horizon, just out of reach.

The cautious Obama administration

Last Thursday’s New York Democratic debate demonstrated this tension. Senator Bernie Sanders called for a World War II-like mobilization to counter the threat of global warming. Meanwhile, Secretary Hillary Clinton stood steadfast behind the incrementalism approach of the Obama administration, working around an obstructionist Congress.

The Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan turns the policy dials as far as possible with existing regulatory tools. It does so with improved efficiency standards for cars and light trucks, nudges the shift from coal to natural gas, and pushes for a modest uptake of renewables. The U.S.’s national climate plan submitted with great fanfare as part of the Paris Agreement aims to reduce emissions by 26-28 percent by 2025. Yet there will be a reckoning between the pledge and what’s actually required to stay within a budget that would give us a fighting chance to avoid dangerous climate change.

The dreamers know what’s needed but lack a credible and concrete technical, political, and sociological plan to get us there. The plodders have a set of existing and politically acceptable tools that are inadequate to the task.

What we need

What we need is a bold new climate and energy policy in the U.S.  And we need a whole new set of social and technical knowledge to get us there. We need transformational thinking and new policy tools. And, we need major legislation such as putting a price on carbon. However, we also need to know if those steps will even be enough to keep us below the scientifically endorsed and aspirational goal included in the Paris Agreement of limiting global average temperature increases to 2.0 or 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The dreamers know what’s needed but lack a credible and concrete technical, political, and sociological plan to get us there. The plodders have a set of existing and politically acceptable tools that are inadequate to the task.

Since 2012, The Solutions Project has sought to lay out how the U.S. and the world could boost energy efficiency and switch to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050. This, however, is focused on the technical side of such a transition. Missing is the political and social thinking adequate to consider where power and resistance lie and how to bring about a just and rapid transition with the technology we have.

We need to start by clearly understanding how much energy savings and carbon emissions reductions existing programs can deliver in various situations. What will each deliver under different political and economic scenarios? Whose livelihoods might be threatened and how can planners address their needs?

The Rhode Island example

I call Rhode Island home, and here, we have good existing programs to build upon. These are instructive of the task faced by many other U.S. states and the nation as a whole. Since 2004, Rhode Island has had the Renewable Energy Standard, which requires a steadily increasing proportion of energy to be supplied by renewable sources each year. . We can extend and strengthen that. Since 2006 the state has mandated that energy companies do the “least cost procurement” of the energy they need, forcing utilities to first undertake serious efficiency and “load-shedding” measures before they build new power lines and power plants. That’s saved millions of dollars and many megawatts of electricity, and reduced our state’s dependence on imported fuels. Since 2011, we have had a growing Distributed Generation program in which wind, solar photovoltaic, and anaerobic digestion technologies compete to lock in prices so they can in turn sell electricity back to the grid. The benefits have begun: clean energy jobshere shot up 40 percent in 2015, and renewables jobs rose by 84 percent in just one year.

Rhode Island can scale up efforts at increasing efficiency, and lock in the savings by replacing the remaining energy needs with renewables (see for one model on how we might). We are developing the first offshore wind farm in North America, which could be scaled up sharply with increased investment. We can incentivize local solar installation, and could become leaders in wave and tidal energy research and implementation. For backup we can buy more hydroelectric power from Quebec and Labrador. We have legislation pending to reduce demand by putting a fair and steadily rising price on carbon which will fund weatherization of low-income homes and small businesses.

What we need is a bold new climate and energy policy in the U.S. And we need a whole new set of social and technical knowledge and know-how to get us there. We need transformational thinking and new policy tools.

Rhode Island can use energy “demand pricing” to incentivize customers to use energy at times of day when it is cheapest and most plentiful, simply by timing when they charge their cars or run their dishwashers. In the short term, we need to aggressively address natural gas (methane) leaks, shore up distribution networks (pipes), and mitigate environmental fallout from extraction (fracking). We can utilize existing nuclear facilities to ease the transition, as long as they remain safe.

We can technically get closer to zero net emissions, and possibly quickly enough to avoid profound climate impacts. But we don’t really know how quickly each of these efforts will deliver what levels of emissions reductions, and whether they can together spur a just and rapid transition off of fossil fuels.

This Earth Day, it’s clear that we need a bold climate and energy policy in the U.S., and we need a whole new set of social and natural science to get us there, combining the vision and urgency of the dreamers with the practical approach of the plodders.

Portrait: Timmons Roberts
Timmons Roberts, @timmonsroberts
Nonresident Senior Fellow, Global Economy and Development
Timmons Roberts is a nonresident senior fellow in the Global Economy and Development program at Brookings, and the Ittleson professor of Environmental Studies and Sociology at Brown University. He is a leading expert on climate change and development. Co-author and editor of 11 books and edited volumes, and over 70 articles and book chapters, Timmons’s current research focuses on equity and why addressing it is a crucial part of confronting climate change.


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