Obama Makes The Green Jobs Connection In Paris. Is India Listening?

Bill Scher

President Barack Obama had returned home from his trip to Paris, where he helped kick off the United Nations climate summit. He had a consistent theme, familiar to those who follow Obama’s rhetoric closely: Embracing clean energy also creates clean energy jobs.

On Tuesday, he said at a press conference:

We seek an agreement that gives businesses and investors the certainty that the global economy is on a firm path towards a low-carbon future, because that will spur the kind of investment that will be vital to combine reduced emissions with economic growth.

That’s the goal. Not just an agreement to roll back the pollution that threatens our planet, but an agreement that helps our economies grow and our people to thrive without condemning the next generation to a planet that is beyond its capacity to repair.

But while he has championed the “green jobs” cause since his first day in the Oval Office, his primary audience this time wasn’t recalcitrant Republicans. It was the fossil-fuel hungry nation of India, currently the third-largest emitter and rising.

India made an unimpressive opening bid in the run-up to the conference: a pledge to slightly slow the growth of its carbon emissions, allowing for a 90 percent increase by 2030, possibly putting it ahead of the U.S. and the European Union.

The U.S. would like to see a stronger commitment from India, especially since Prime Minister Narendra Modi has signaled his interest in building a clean energy legacy, even writing an e-book on tackling climate change. But India wants to see the developed world shoulder more of the cost before making bigger pledges.

India also has been insisting it should be allowed to build more coal plants, as now-developed countries did, to help reduce widespread poverty. On Tuesday, Obama sent this implicit message to India:

We seek an agreement that makes sure developing nations have the resources they need to skip the dirty phase of development if they’re willing to do their part, and that makes sure the nations most vulnerable to climate change have resources to adapt to the impacts we can no longer avoid.

And in a Monday speech, Obama sought to assure India and others that doing more for the climate does not mean doing less for their economies:

The advances we’ve made have helped drive our economic output to all-time highs, and drive our carbon pollution to its lowest levels in nearly two decades.

But the good news is this is not an American trend alone. Last year, the global economy grew while global carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels stayed flat. And what this means can’t be overstated. We have broken the old arguments for inaction. We have proved that strong economic growth and a safer environment no longer have to conflict with one another; they can work in concert with one another…

… If we put the right rules and incentives in place, we’ll unleash the creative power of our best scientists and engineers and entrepreneurs to deploy clean energy technologies and the new jobs and new opportunities that they create all around the world.

Obama hopes to assuage India’s concern about cost by working with Bill Gates to pull together a multibillion-dollar public-private partnership that will invest in clean energy technologies. A separate announcement of 20 world leaders pledged to double the total amount they collectively invest in clean energy, reaching $20 billion over five years. (The U.S. would account for half of that, though that has to be contingent on congressional approval.)

Obama’s rhetoric is for domestic consumption as well. Republicans are continuing to badmouth Obama’s focus on climate in hopes of undermining public support. So far, it’s not working: 66 percent of Americans want the U.S. to join “an international treaty requiring America to reduce emissions.”

Still, it can’t be repeated enough that generating more clean energy means more clean energy jobs. Americans get it. Hopefully, Indians will too.

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