Wednesday, January 21, 2015

India: the Next Bump on the Road to Paris

Can President Obama leverage the power of his office to bring about a meaningful agreement in Paris? In his State of the Union message last night he seemed to say so, and the agreement with Beijing this fall was certainly a step in that direction. Next up ? India, world's third largest carbon polluter, on track to be the very worst in a matter of years, and the most perfect storm by far where size, poverty, and primitive energy infrastructure merge to make clean energy conversion a distant hope.

All that notwithstanding, Obama will sit down with Prime Minister Modi in New Delhi this weekend, with climate goals foremost on the agenda. Which? We might hope for encouragement, even tangible support for India's promising solar sector, and indeed there may be movement on that front. More likely, though, Obama will be there to broker what are called "lucrative" deals between American nuclear power contractors and India's somewhat desperate, we-can't-afford-to-be-choosy government. With several hundred million people lacking electricity, and many millions more experiencing brown-outs, India needs massive solutions to lift its population out of dire poverty and fuel its projected growth.

Is it a good idea for Obama to go shilling for GE and Westinghouse's nuclear contracts?  Many of us would say that more nuclear is never a happy solution. But if it becomes the means for India to sign on to a meaningful accord in Paris, and more to the point, if India's almost inevitable growth surge draws on this non-carbon-polluting technology--whatever its other costs--we may have to agree that it's the best of what's possible. And we might also thank our President, who has played a waiting game in so many ways, but whose 'fourth quarter' presidency is showing some real movement.

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