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Obama and (climate) change: Indian edition

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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The U.S. launched this week a historic program to advance clean energy in India—where simply moving the 40 percent of the South Asian nation’s citizens who still burn coal, dung or wood to electricity could deliver major improvements for development, clean air and climate. Last week, it was a similar historic program to advance clean energy with China as well as a shared commitment to meaningful steps as part of the upcoming Copenhagen climate talks. And, to top it off, Obama has announced plans to swing by the talks on Dec. 9 as well as to publicly commit to U.S. emission reductions "in the range of 17 percent below 2005 levels in 2020 and ultimately in line with final U.S. energy and climate legislation."

By negotiating directly with China and India—as well as neighbors Mexico and Canada—to craft a shared strategy on climate change, the Obama administration has both addressed more than half of global emissions of greenhouse gases and made international consensus in Copenhagen more likely. The president has also gotten both developing countries to agree to actively monitor and announce their greenhouse gas emissions going forward—a key aspect of any international verification system for emission reductions. And China has already committed to keeping the intensity of its emissions 40 to 45 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.

"Based on progress made in recent, constructive discussions with China and India’s Leaders, the President believes it is possible to reach a meaningful agreement in Copenhagen," according to a prepared statement from the White House. "The President’s decision to go is a sign of his continuing commitment and leadership to find a global solution to the global threat of climate change, and to lay the foundation for a new, sustainable and prosperous clean energy future."

A big part of that foundation will be developing the kinds of clean energy technologies discussed with China and India—from coal with carbon capture and storage to new nuclear power plants, and from rural electrification abroad to energy efficiency improvements at home. In particular, the U.S. National Renewable Energy Lab will partner with India’s Solar Energy Centre and Centre for Wind Energy Technology to map potential, develop technology and, ultimately, aid in its deployment—potentially allowing rural Indians to "leapfrog" directly to distributed solar energy, without the need for costly transmission lines. And there will also be enhanced cooperation in agriculture—helping to revitalize the Green Revolution in India that dramatically reduced starvation there in the 20th century.

"India is important to the energy and climate change problem for several reasons," said U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu during a visit to the country this month. For one, "eighty percent of the infrastructure in India has yet to be built. What we have today and what we are going to have by 2030. So this is an incredible opportunity for India to build its buildings, its cities, its highways, its infrastructure, its transportation in the most energy efficient way possible."

Further, the President outlined his vision for pending climate legislation in the U.S. this week—in addition to the target of reducing emissions to 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 (a goal already half-achieved thanks to the Great Recession and other factors), a 30 percent reduction by 2025, 42 percent by 2030 and, ultimately, an 83 percent cut by mid-century.

"The U.S. commitment to specific, mid-term emission cut targets and China’s commitment to specific action on energy efficiency can unlock two of the last doors to a comprehensive agreement," said Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, of the chances for a global agreement in Copenhagen.

Of course, the shape of any final U.S. commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions will be decided by the U.S. Congress, but the President has a final option should legislators fail to act—regulation under the Clean Air Act by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Image: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza





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  1. 1. lanceman 2:43 pm 11/27/2009

    I hope Obama combines his trip to Copenhagen with his trip to Oslo to pick up his Nobel so as to minimize his carbon footprint.

    Link to this
  2. 2. sethdayal 3:47 pm 11/27/2009

    India has plans for 470 gigawatts of nuclear power. Wind and solar will be a tiny fraction of that. There are looking to buy as many as 6 American AP-1000′s.

    This country is the leader in the global warming war.

    The US could use 2500 gigwatts of nukes but is crippled by inefficient private power companies, a biased Nuclear Rejection Commission and corrupt and litigious political and legal systems, quadrupling nuclear costs and time frames.

    Link to this
  3. 3. scientific earthling 11:25 pm 11/27/2009

    sethdayal:
    The underlying cause of global warming is homo sapien population. India does nothing to control her population, China on the other-hand has reigned in population growth.

    Don’t compare yourself to Africa, you received your freedom a lot earlier than they did.

    No mate India is not the leader in the global warming war.

    Link to this
  4. 4. D Wolfe 9:00 am 11/28/2009

    Scientific Earthling: Mao killed between 30 to 50 million Chinese citizens and in draconian style enforced a one child policy that resulted in babies, especially the female kind, being killed. China is already starting to see the ill effects of screwing around with its population growth fundamentals and by 2050 will not have a work force left but huge retirement social net problems. India has one of the best working democracies in the world. Hitler also did a great job in population control

    Link to this
  5. 5. tex78132 2:19 pm 11/28/2009

    China has indicated it would intend to lower its output of CO2 by 17% adjusted for economic growth over the period in question. In other words they plan to triple their economy but take 17% off the top in carbon savings. LMFAO.

    Link to this
  6. 6. twoton 8:27 pm 11/28/2009

    Obama setting up to mis-allocate hard earned capital again.

    My, he’s good at spreading it around… Pity he can’t find something that’s based on science to spend our money on.

    Perhaps Mr. Biello can suggest something, after all he works for SCIENTIFIC American.

    Link to this
  7. 7. Bops 2:42 am 11/29/2009

    Biello,
    You did it again!
    Every time you write a dumb article, most people get "annoyed" and it shows on the comments.
    Also…I don’t think what you wrote it accurate.
    I can’t understand why anyone would pay you to write.

    Link to this
  8. 8. scientific earthling 12:12 am 11/30/2009

    D Wolfe:
    The current crises in world climate is principally driven by world population numbers. A myopic world society blames power generation and transportation as the principal drivers, it closes its eyes to habitat destruction.

    Deforestation reduces the planets ability to convert solar energy to sugar and causes it to heat up the planet instead.

    The nation you credit as being the worlds best working democracy is one of the most corrupt places on earth.

    China has successfully controlled her population growth, and now works towards reducing her human footprint.

    Hitler opened our eyes to our ability to do harm, and his actions resulted in controlling the European population.

    It is not the morality of the action that matters, it is the result. A morally right society that does not act to prevent its extinction is a stupid society. At the end of the day there is no overseeing intelligent entity that controls the universe.

    Link to this
  9. 9. Michael Cook 10:29 am 12/1/2009

    But China will only do that 17% if the USA agrees to pay China hundreds of billions of dollars to do it. Since China has shining mountains of our money already this seems like trying to get the last drop of blood out of a turnip.

    Link to this
  10. 10. Guido BC 1:54 pm 07/11/2011

    Let us all remind the construction and implementation of summertime. Or light saving time.By manipulating the clock we should save money.
    BUT THIS DIFFERS IN TIME, PLACE AND GROUP.
    So by now we should rethink this show.

    Please also visit this poll:http://www.linkedin.com/osview/canvas?_ch_page_id=1&_ch_panel_id=1&_ch_app_id=80&_applicationId=1900&_ownerId=0&appParams=%7B%22section%22%3A%22results%22%2C%22poll_id%22%3A%22139402%22%7D

    Thank you

    Link to this

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