- The Washington Times - Monday, June 26, 2017

Cooperating in the fight against climate change had been a central part of the U.S.-India relationship under President Barack Obama, but the issue was relegated to the back burner Monday during President Trump’s meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

In Mr. Trump’s and Mr. Modi’s remarks in the Rose Garden, energy and climate change were all but absent other than a brief mention of U.S. natural gas exports to India, which the president said he fully supports and hopes to finalize quickly.

The meeting came less than a month after Mr. Trump announced the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris climate accord, a deal India signed onto after prodding by the Obama administration and other world leaders. India is one of the world’s top polluters, and the world community views containing the country’s emissions as crucial to the effort to stop global warming.

Unlike his predecessor, who often touted joint efforts between the U.S. and India to fight climate change, Mr. Trump skirted the issue entirely Monday, instead focusing on how America can export fuel, technology and expertise to the developing country of more than 1 billion people.

“We’re also looking forward to exporting more American energy to India as your economy grows, as well as major long-term contracts to purchase American natural gas, which are right now being negotiated and will be signed,” the president said.

Analysts say America’s exit from the Paris agreement doesn’t mean that India will abandon its efforts, even though international pressure from the U.S. has been lifted by Mr. Trump’s decision to withdraw from Paris.

As part of its commitment under the landmark international deal, India promised to reduce the emissions intensity of its gross domestic product by at least 33 percent by 2030 when compared to 2005 levels. In an even more ambitious vow, the country said it will aim to get 40 percent of its electric power from nonfossil fuel sources by 2030.

On the latter part of its goal, specialists say India is well on its way, and could actually hit the target much sooner, though some specific pieces of its commitment are contingent on international financial aid — aid that is now in question without U.S. participation in Paris.

Still, analysts believe that India sees natural gas and renewable fuel such as wind and solar power as central to its long-term energy future, and that Mr. Modi and other leaders view a greener energy sector as both beneficial to the planet and to its own economic growth.

The U.S. exit from Paris, they say, doesn’t necessarily mean India will suddenly pull back from its commitments, and pursuing those targets is likely to benefit the country in the long run.

“There’s too many national interests involved to think that … because one large entity moved out [of Paris] that they’re going to move out, too,” said Tom Sanzillo, director of finance at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.

Eighteen months after signing on to the Paris agreement, India is already outpacing its annual targets in installing new wind power generation. While it’s clear that coal will continue to play a large part in the country’s development — the country’s coal production is up during the first five months of the year — the country also is investing heavily in renewable fuels and has shown signs that such spending will continue years into the future.

With little in the way of direct cooperation between the U.S. and Indian governments on fighting climate change, specialists say the future of the bilateral relationship on energy could come from U.S. businesses exporting its goods and technology, particularly from the wind and solar sectors.

“That enormous drive for renewable energy in India — there are enormous opportunities for the U.S. private sector to engage in that,” said Paula Caballero, global director of the climate program at the World Resources Institute.

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