I was in India this week for the fourth U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue, joined by my friend from Massachusetts and one of the smartest, most creative leaders in government, Energy Secretary Ernie Moniz.
Every time I visit India, it’s as if I set foot in a different country, a country racing forward to meet the economic and development demands of modernity, a boisterous democracy where debate is a prized commodity.
But the country I visited this week was also grappling with the impact of extraordinary flooding responsible for the heartbreaking loss of lives and livelihoods.
Here, too, extreme weather events are causing unbelievable disruption and dislocation — and India is not alone: extreme weather events are increasing all over the world and 12 of the hottest 14 years on record have occurred since 2000.
Just last week, the World Bank reported that within the next generation that same warming atmosphere could lead to widespread water and food shortages, historic heat waves, prolonged droughts, and more intense flooding. And tragically, India is a primary candidate for all four. India helps feed the world, but extreme heat could actually cut in half yields of the most productive areas, wreaking havoc on global food prices. The Himalayan glaciers are receding, threatening the supply of water to almost a billion people.
What does that tell us? It underscores the imperative that we act forcefully and cooperatively on climate change, not because of ideology, but because of science.
The global climate challenge is about opportunity, security, even our very survival in the long term. These challenges are interconnected and we have the opportunity — right now — to address them in ways that move our economies forward and deliver tangible benefits to the global community.
The good news is that if we address climate change the right way, it’s not going to hurt our economies; it’ll actually grow them. Staring us in the face today is one of the greatest economic opportunities of all time – the clean energy market. The new energy market is a $6 trillion market and its fastest growing segment by far is clean energy. This is not just about air and water and weather, it’s about job creation, capturing investment, and improving our economies.
My time in India, fortuitously, came on the eve of President Obama announcing a series of domestic measures to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Our decisive action at home empowers us to make more progress internationally on the shared global challenge of climate change. We in the United States recognize our responsibility to lead on climate action and we are committed to doing our part by taking significant actions to reduce our own emissions. Under President Obama, the United States has done more to combat climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions than ever before, both at home and abroad. And the announcement just this week of actions that include cutting domestic carbon pollution from new and existing power plants and increasing the use of renewable and clean energy sources puts tangible action behind our words.
India and the United States are particularly well-positioned to roll up our sleeves and cooperate to address climate change. We have strong foundations to build on together, and I believe that by joining forces, India and the United States can make this leap for the benefit of both our countries and the world. We can, I believe, do so in a way that erases the anxiety (quite understandable) in a country like India that wants to grow and develop just as we did in the 1800s and 1900s. But the beauty of today’s technology is that India can grow clean – an option the United States didn’t have during our time of economic transformation from an agrarian to an industrialized nation. We can work on this together. That is why we announced this week the formation of a U.S.-India Working Group on Climate Change to seek new ways to find solutions and push the curve of discovery. This new Working Group will allow us build on our common values and seize the common possibilities that lie ahead of us.
My bottom-line take away from my climate and energy discussions in India? The world’s largest democracy and the world’s oldest democracy, both scientific leaders, can and must do more together to confront the climate challenge – and if we get it right, our partnership can be an example for the world.
Editor’s Note: This entry originally appeared as a “Your Dot” piece on the New York Times’s “Dot Earth” blog.