MADURAI: Vannakam. It is an honor for me to speak with students from a number of colleges here in Madurai. Thank you to Mannar Thirumalai Naicker College for hosting students from Fatima College, Lady Doak College, Madura College, Sourashtra College, Vellaichami Nadar College and Thiagaraja School of Management as well. I’d like to especially thank Mr. Vijayaragavan, Secretary, Mannar Thirumalai Naicker College for your kind invitation to join you during my time in Madurai.
U.S. – INDIA PARTNERSHIP
I arrived in India just over a year ago and have found a home away from home here. In many ways, Tamil Nadu feels very familiar to me. I spent twelve years of my childhood in the Philippines and the climate, the vegetation, the hustle and bustle of the cities and the warmth of the people link South India to memories of my youth in Manila. This is my first visit to Madurai and I am struck by its history, a city nourished by the fertile plains of the River Vaigai, which today relies on its agricultural economy, its manufacturing base, and its growing high tech industry. Madurai embodies India’s reality, one that is deeply immersed in ancient history on one hand and that advances innovation on the other.
Here’s another reality. The U.S.-India partnership encompasses every aspect of the 21st century. I think it’s fair to say that in the past 12 months the U.S.-India partnership has soared to new heights and become one of the most consequential relationships of the 21st century. From our broad strategic and defense relationship, to growing trade and investment partnerships, to the deep educational and people-to-people ties, the United States and India are working hand in hand – not just for the betterment of Indians and Americans – but for greater peace and prosperity in the world. As I look at all of you, young people who have prioritized your education to secure your futures, I think of the young American students whom you will meet, work with, perhaps hire – and I hope not fire. It is all of you – Indians and Americans – who will bring the hard work of today to fruition tomorrow.
CLIMATE CHANGE: A GLOBAL AND LOCAL THREAT
One of the toughest challenges facing your generation is climate change. One of the greatest benefits of the strong U.S. – India partnership is our willingness to tackle the thorniest issues on the planet. We don’t have a choice on this one. We must act now and we – the world – must act together to make a difference.
Climate change is often portrayed in global terms: rising sea levels, changing weather patterns, and rising temperatures. Fourteen of the last 15 years have been the warmest on record, affecting available water resources and playing a role in major natural disasters. These global changes have highly localized impacts. For example, along the eastern coast of the United States, the city of Miami now floods at high tide and climate change likely exacerbates hurricanes like Superstorm Sandy. Farmers in India and the U.S. need to know how much rain will come this year, and when. Fishermen rely on predictable migration patterns and feeding areas of ocean life. When water dries up, when crops fail, when the fish disappear, people suffer. Cities and entire regions can lose their economic foundations.
Let’s take a quick look at Madurai. Each economic sector – agriculture, manufacturing, and high tech – is impacted by climate change. The rice, pulses, millet, oil seed, cotton and sugarcane crops feed and sustain tens of millions of people. And Madurai is one of the few areas in South India able to grow rubber, an agricultural product that has positively contributed to the industrialization of the city. Lose this agricultural base and you will harm the growing industrial base which has brought more jobs and income to the region over the last 20 years. Then there’s Madurai’s newest economic base – the high tech industry. Many of the long term solutions to climate change will come from this industry.
U.S.-INDIA PARTNERSHIP ON CLIMATE CHANGE: PUBLIC AND PRIVATE
When President Obama and Prime Minister Modi met in September, they recognized that global climate change is a profound threat to humanity and to the imperatives of sustainable development, growth, and the eradication of poverty. This is why the United States and India partnership to address climate change is so critical and why we are working closely together for a successful climate agreement in Paris in December.
So what are we working on exactly? Almost everything each of you is studying and more. We’ve got working groups that include the best minds from public and private entities focused on power & energy efficiency, oil & gas, new technology & renewable energy, coal, and sustainable growth. And don’t forget air quality, clean energy, and smart grids for smart cities. Then there are our combined research efforts. Science and technology are crucial to understanding the causes and the impact of climate change. We are working closely together on atmospheric, environment, and earth science research as well as emerging materials and manufacturing science.
In addition, we are both committed to promoting an environment conducive to entrepreneurship and technology commercialization. Why? Because government alone cannot either find all the answers or apply all the solutions. We need private enterprise in both countries to take up this challenge. And that’s good news for you and your professional futures.
As was true in the areas of high-tech, space cooperation, and other scientific endeavors, our bilateral climate change programs will have tremendous impacts on innovation and growth in India. The economic benefits of addressing climate change and moving to clean energy are enormous. In addition to creating more jobs, reducing energy costs, and maximizing profits in the near-term, businesses will realize gains through reduced healthcare costs and increased productivity in the long-term. You will have more choices for your future – more jobs supporting sustainable industries.
In the United States, we are already seeing results. We have made progress with key partners like India on issues such as renewable energy deployment, hydrofluorocarbon emissions, vehicle emissions standards, energy efficiency, and clean energy initiatives. Today, America’s carbon pollution is near its lowest level in almost two decades even as our economy has grown by 60%.
India has just submitted its national plan for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. As Prime Minister Modi seeks to cut the intensity of its carbon emissions by 33-35% and boost its renewable energy capacity to 40 per cent by 2030, there will be new opportunities to utilize cleaner technologies that are more energy and cost efficient. Designing and producing these technologies will certainly require hard work and innovation, but they can have a profound impact on the overall goals of upgrading India’s infrastructure and improving the quality of life for hundreds of millions of Indians all around the country. I know you are ready to take on this challenge.
You may have seen the news stories about American and India “elevating their partnership.” What that means for you is this: The United States and India working together – government to government, business to business, school to school, person to person – to address the greatest threat facing our planet. We will help not just our peoples, not just our economies, not just our countries, but the world. And in so doing, you will secure your future, whether that be in business, in the sciences, in “green jobs” across the arts and social fields, or, for the entrepreneurs among us, in a field not yet even realized. Join this urgent call to action and become part of the solution for India and the world.
Thank you again. I look forward to your questions.