Technical cooperation rather than political wrangling will move the needle on energy and climate change between the United States and India, a top Indian business leader said yesterday.
The two countries have moved further apart in recent years on a range of energy issues in the political sphere, particularly the effort to reduce emissions of the powerful greenhouse gases known as hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs. While the United States struck a deal with China to ratchet down HFC emissions using the Montreal Protocol agreement, a similar deal with India has been elusive.
But Jamshyd Godrej, chairman and managing director of the Godrej and Boyce Manufacturing Co. Ltd. and a leading patron of environmental causes in India, said negotiations alone won't make headway.
"We really need to have a technical discussion rather than a political decision. That's where the solution will come," Godrej said.
Similarly, he said, speaking at the Aspen Institute at the opening of informal talks between the two countries on energy and climate, India "can do better" on its climate change goals. But, he said, the real key is helping to develop technologies and put in place policies on everything from agriculture to off-grid technology. "These are the things that will lead us there," he said.
The "track two" discussions between the United States and India kicked off yesterday among a group of industry leaders, environmental activists and policymakers from both countries in an opening attempt to develop a joint bilateral low-carbon strategy. The focus of the fourth annual talks, organizers said, will include HFCs and building resilience to climate change.
Is phasing out HFCs 'doable'?
Led by Godrej and Center for American Progress Senior Fellow Carol Browner, who previously served as President Obama's climate czar, the talks kicked off with a panel that touched on everything from vehicle fuel standards to building efficiency.
Godrej noted that one of the top environmental issues facing India right now is air quality. Browner and California Air Resources Board Chairwoman Mary Nichols argued that taking serious steps to address air pollution could help chart a path in India to climate action.
On HFCs, India has been particularly resistant to using the Montreal Protocol to address the pollutants, insisting that the issue be moved into the contentious U.N. climate change negotiations. Godrej, who said that he phased out HFCs in his own company, and called it "eminently doable,"
argued that he thinks the Montreal Protocol is "very effective." But, he said, little is likely to change at least in the next three months, before India's national election.
Other activists said they are optimistic about a change in India's position on HFCs. Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development, said India "has its own evolving strategy that is increasingly sophisticated and increasingly positive." He argued that industry players see the phasedown of HFCs as a relatively easy step, and environmental groups are starting to emphasize ways in which reducing the pollutant is in India's economic self-interest.
Zaelke said he is hopeful that several countries, including India, will announce an agreement to negotiate the phasedown of HFCs by September, when U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will hold a leaders' summit on climate change. That summit is aimed at strengthening commitments for a new global treaty to be inked in Paris in 2015 at the 21st Conference of the Parties to the U.N. climate regime, otherwise known as COP 21.
"It would build tremendous momentum," Zaelke said. "This is really an important moment here. Will we take a step and build the on-ramp for a successful COP 21, or will we fail?"