Please don’t preach Mr Kerry, act at home

US secretary of state John Kerry has a 'one solar panel, one bulb' solution for India’s energy challenge, and is no different from his predecessors as far as global climate negotiations are concerned

By Chandra Bhushan
Published: Monday 24 June 2013

US secretary of state John Kerry has a “one solar panel, one-bulb” solution for India’s energy challenge, and is no different from his predecessors as far as global climate negotiations are concerned

I attended the lecture of the US secretary of state John Kerry in New Delhi on Sunday (June 23). Kerry is in town for the annual US-India Strategic Dialogue. Though he addressed three key issues—security, economic relations and climate change—he spent a great deal of time on climate issues.

Kerry is supposed to have more environmental credentials than any of the other secretaries of state that we have seen in the past two decades. My friends in the US tell me he is very serious about climate change and that he wants to push the US to do more on it. However, that did not reflect in his speech. He had more to say on what others should do on climate change, and not what the US should do or is doing.

Kerry’s message to India was: the country should not use coal and move to renewable energy; India should use high-efficiency air conditioning systems and phase out hydrofluorocarbons (HFC); India must come on board in global climate change negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)—the implicit message here is that India must support the US and not push for principles of equity and historical responsibility for the global deal that will be finalized in 2015 in Paris. While using terms such as “global compact” and “national circumstances” in relation to the UNFCCC deal, his message to India was that the country would suffer on account of climate change and that we (Indians) must do everything on climate change. He also made a pitch to sell nuclear power to India.

Kerry came with a “one solar panel, one bulb” mindset (as most from the West do) to solve India’s energy challenge. By giving one solar panel and one bulb to those without access to energy, India could meet its “incremental energy needs” of 300 million people, Kerry suggested. India, the US and China should build on renewable energy opportunities, he added. 

I have no problems with his pitch for countries coming together to develop renewable energy. But I have issues with the fact that nowhere in his speech did he mention what the US is doing on renewable energy or what is the renewable energy target that the US has set for itself for, say 2020. The fact is that today close to 20 per cent of India’s electricity supply is from renewable sources (including hydropower). India has set itself a target for renewable energy; the US has not.

The US today is going the fossil fuel route. It is moving to shale gas big time. Kerry should know that this shale gas mania would destroy the renewable future of the world that he so fervently preached yesterday.

I found his speech hypocritical. He talked about how India should reduce its emissions from residential sector but gave the massive energy consumption in residential and commercial sectors in the US a convenient miss. The US is the largest consumer of HFCs in the world, but Kerry did not throw light on what the US is doing to phase out the highly potent greenhouse gas, and how quickly. While I agree that India should also phase out HFCs, but it should not be through a deal that only benefits American multinational companies.

Kerry is no different from his predecessors who have come to India and spoken on climate change. Hillary Clinton had expressed the same views that India must reduce emissions and the US would act “depending on national circumstances”. Clinton’s attitude resulted in the Copenhagen fiasco. We hope Kerry’s attitude does not result in another fiasco in Paris in 2015.

Mr Kerry, show leadership. Bite the bullet. Tell the world what the US is going to do. Just imposing limits on carbon emissions from existing coal power plants, as your president has suggested, will not help. In any case, cheaper shale gas will render most of your power plants obsolete.

The US must announce its target to reduce emissions by 40 per cent relative to 1990 levels by 2020. Like it has always done in the past, the US cannot override this demand of science any longer. If the US wants a “global compact” it must show leadership by doing things at home and not preach to other countries on what they should do.


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