Trump and Modi Wrap Climate Change Differences in Shroud of Silence

India sees its future in renewable energy and supports the Paris Agreement. Trump promotes fossil fuels. Neither leader mentioned climate in their public appearance.

Indian Prime Minister Modi and President Trump make statements outside the White House.
In a joint appearance, neither Trump nor Modi mentioned climate change. Manish Bapna of the World Resources Institute said "the omission signifies discord, not apathy." Credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images

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President Donald Trump’s first meeting with his Indian counterpart, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, went off Monday with a conspicuous omission when the two leaders made no mention of climate change and just a passing reference to energy in their public remarks.

The subject had produced barbs between American and Indian officials in recent weeks after Trump singled out India and China as unfairly benefiting from the Paris climate agreement. When Trump announced he would withdraw the United States from the accord, he objected to India making its participation “contingent on receiving billions and billions and billions of dollars in foreign aid from developed countries.”

While the country is seeking aid, India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj quickly shot back that “India signed the Paris climate pact not because of pressure from any country or due to lure of money. Our signature in the pact was not because of greed, it was not because of fear. We signed it due to our commitment to protecting the environment.”

The absence of any mention of climate change in the public statements on Monday spoke volumes, said Manish Bapna, executive vice president of the World Resources Institute. “The omission signifies discord, not apathy, on climate, and lies in stark contrast to the productive U.S.-India talks of recent years,” he said.

Standing outside the White House on a sunny Monday evening, the two leaders showed no signs of a lingering rift, or of the massive shifts underway in India’s energy sector, which has seen the rapid rise of solar power over the past year.

The only mention of energy policy came in an announcement from Trump that the nations were negotiating long-term contracts to export liquefied natural gas from the U.S. to India.

But those who follow India’s climate role, as the third-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions behind China and the U.S., are watching changes like these:

  • Earlier this month, The New York Times outlined India’s abrupt energy turnaround. Just a few years ago, the country was planning a massive build-out of its coal power infrastructure to meet growing demand anticipated with the nation’s development. Now, experts now says India won’t need any new coal plants for a decade, and after that it may be able to rely on renewable energy sources rather than coal.
  • Just last week, Coal India, one of the world’s largest coal mining companies, announced it would shut 37 mines by March because they are no longer economically viable.
  • One of the primary reasons for the shift, according to a review by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, a Cleveland-based research group that supports a transition to renewable power, is a precipitous drop in the price of solar power in India. Also helping is improving energy efficiency. Over the course of just one month this year, nearly 14 gigawatts in proposed coal-generating capacity was cancelled, according to the group.
  • India is set to become the world’s third-largest solar market this year.
  • In May, InsideClimate News wrote about a study that found that slowing coal use in India and China was putting the countries on track to meet their Paris pledges. The cuts in emissions in the two countries, the study found, could even be large enough to make up for the changes in U.S. policy expected from the Trump administration.
  • In April, The Los Angeles Times explored India’s Paris Agreement pledge—a promise to slash emissions intensity by at least 33 percent by 2030—and discussed why the country may have an interest in following through.
  • Yet despite all this, coal mining has actually continued to expand in India, growing 4 percent over the first five months of 2017 compared to the same period last year, according to an analysis by the Associated Press.
  • Finally, on the climate science front, the Hindustan Times has this story about a partnership between India and the U.S. to build what may be the world’s most expensive earth-imaging satellite, and whether the collaboration will continue under Trump. The project is a joint effort by NASA and the Indian Space Research Organization, and will take radar snapshots of the planet to view changes in tectonic plates, glaciation and vegetation.