The Significance of the Paris Agreement for the U.S.-India Relationship and the World

U.S. Ambassador Richard R. Verma


(As Prepared for Delivery)

Thank you Professor Anjoo Sharan for your kind introduction.  I am pleased to be here today at the Malaviya Centre for Peace Research with all of you, and would like to recognize Professor R.R. Jha, Dean of Faculty of Social Sciences, and Mr. Bantu Pandey, the coordinator of Where There Be Dragons.

Coming to Banaras Hindu University has been a wonderful experience for me.  Your campus is beautifully landscaped and the architecture is stunning.  On the one hand, looking at all of you makes me feel a little old.  One the other hand, I understand that BHU is celebrating its centenary this year – and that makes me feel quite young again.

And I would add this is my first trip to Varanasi, one of the world’s oldest cities and a city that holds a special meaning for Hindus around the world.  I  look forward tonight to visiting the Ganges river, the holy river for Hindus, and exploring a city that many have told me is one of India’s most magical and colorful.  I know that Prime Minister Modi’s constituency is Varanasi and he has led an effort to clean up the Ganges and preserve its vital link to this city, and I will have meetings during this visit to find out more about these efforts.

I would like to thank the Banaras Hindu University for hosting me and giving me the opportunity to discuss a subject that has been dominating the headlines over the past two weeks:  the intersection of climate change and the recently concluded Paris Agreement.  After highlighting the significance of the Paris Agreement, I will share what the United States is doing to combat climate change – both at home and here in India with you.

On December 12, more than 190 countries came together to adopt the most ambitious climate change agreement in history.  The Paris Agreement establishes a long term, durable global framework to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.  For the first time, all countries commit to submitting successive and ambitious, nationally determined climate targets.

The parties to the agreement also commit to reporting on the progress toward their nationally determined climate targets through a review process that is both standardized and rigorous.

Praise for Negotiators

It’s hard to overstate the historical significance of this agreement and I would like to thank those who played a key role concluding it.  First, allow me to thank France and French President Holland for hosting the conference.  Their ambitious, skilled, and impartial leadership were vital to the successful execution of this endeavor.

Second, I would like to express sincere appreciation to the leaders of both our nations and to their negotiators in Paris.  We would not be standing where we are today without the vision and political courage of both President Obama and Prime Minister Modi.  I know that on our side, chief negotiator Todd Stern and his team have worked tirelessly for six years to revolutionize how we understand and combat climate change and to forge strong working relationships with climate officials around the world, including with our Indian counterparts.  Ministers Swaraj and Javadekar, Secretary Lavasa, and Additional Secretary Kumar deserve to be recognized for their hard work and vital commitment to achieving the great goal of a climate agreement Paris.

Finally, I want to thank the people of nearly 200 nations – large and small, developed and developing – for working together to confront a threat to the people of all nations. Together, we’ve shown what’s possible when the world stands as one.  In similar fashion, I would like to thank all of you here today because you’re part of the Agreement as well.  Even if you were not in Paris to help negotiate it, you can play an important role in implementing it.

Summary of the Agreement and why it’s Important

Climate change has rightly been called the most complicated challenge of our time.  It is a challenge with multiple causes and effects, and one that crosses all international boundaries.  And its fundamental connection to socioeconomic development makes it politically challenging to implement the sweeping changes necessary to keep the average rise in global temperatures “well below 2 degrees Celsius” relative to preindustrial levels.

And the Agreement comes not a moment too soon.  2015 will be the hottest year in recorded history, breaking a mark that was previously set in 2014.  Since scientists began logging global temperature records in 1880, all ten of the hottest years in the record have occurred since 1998.  No student here today has lived through a month where global temperatures were below the 20th century average.  The outcomes of our new reality are:  a warming atmosphere and oceans, shrinking ice caps, rising sea levels, and changing and intensifying weather events.  The recent flooding in Chennai is but one example of some of the tremendous human and economic costs associated with climate change.

The Agreement is important because it establishes a long term, durable global framework to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions to keep global temperature rise well below 2 degrees Celsius.  In order to accomplish our shared goal, the agreement needed to promote

  • ambition;
  • transparency and accountability;
  • and the opportunity for a low-carbon future;

It also had to respect equity and common-but-differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in light of different national circumstances.

This agreement meets all five criteria.

An Ambitious Agreement

Not only does the agreement set a goal of keeping warming well below 2 degrees Celsius, it also agrees to pursue efforts to limit the increase in temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius.  Scientists and policy-makers recognize that limiting the increase in temperatures to that level will be extremely challenging.  That is why countries should aim to peak their greenhouse gas emissions as early as possible.

The agreement is ambitious because it establishes a universal approach for all countries.  It transcends the outdated binary distinction of developed and developing countries devised well before cell phones and the Internet became popular.  The agreement institutionalizes what each nation agrees to do to reduce climate change, and directs countries to communicate and maintain successive and ambitious self-determined climate targets every five years.

This approach  – where countries set non-binding targets for themselves – paved the way for 187 mitigation contributions this year and will form the basis for a long-term, durable system to reduce emissions over time.  This system encourages countries to increase their goals in the years ahead, driving greater climate ambition as the years pass, technologies improve, and circumstances change.

To help inform further domestic and global efforts, the Agreement puts in place a mechanism to assess collective progress on global mitigation action using the best available science. This process will begin in 2018 and occur every five years to help inform countries’ future targets and strategies.

The ambition in this Agreement sends a clear market signal on innovation and technology, giving investors and businesspeople the confidence to significantly scale-up their investment in and reliance on increasingly clean and renewable energy sources.  Taken together, these actions will accelerate cost reductions for renewable energy and other low-carbon solutions.

A Transparent and Accountable Agreement

The Paris Agreement establishes a robust system of transparency and accountability to help make sure all countries are living up to their commitments. This mechanism will reinforce the market signal that I discussed earlier.

This system requires all countries to report on how much greenhouse gas they release, by source.  Countries are also required to report information needed to track progress made in implementing and achieving the targets and strategies they themselves have put forward.  These twin breakthroughs will give unprecedented clarity to the public’s understanding of emissions in countries throughout the world and the progress those countries have made toward their stated goals.

This system also establishes a technical review process.  This review will be led by climate experts following agreed upon standards.  Countries will also engage in a multilateral review with their peers to share experiences and lessons learned.

An Agreement for a Low-Carbon Future

Tackling climate change will require shifting global investment flows towards clean energy, forest protection, and climate-resilient infrastructure.  Developing countries, particularly the most vulnerable, will need support from the global community as they pursue clean and resilient growth. The Paris Agreement makes real progress on this front by giving confidence that existing financial commitments will be met and providing the strong, long-term market signal that the world is locking in a low-carbon future.

Developing countries like India are rightfully concerned about financial, technological, and administrative support to transitioning to low-carbon growth.  I am pleased to report that developed countries are well on our way toward meeting the goal to jointly mobilize $100 billion a year from a wide-variety of sources, including public and private, by 2020.  But make no mistake, the United States and other developed economies will continue to take the lead to promote meeting this and future climate finance goals.

A Fully Differentiated Agreement

I want to reemphasize what President Obama said in January; the United States recognizes our part in creating this problem, so we’re leading the effort to combat it.  One of the tools to combat climate change is our support for an agreement based on common-but-differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities in light of different national circumstances.

That’s a mouthful even for an ambassador, but its essence is this:  climate change is a global problem that requires all countries to make a positive contribution.  The agreement recognizes that not all countries can make the same contributions because of different stages of development.  As countries continue to develop, it is only natural that their climate contributions will reflect their new reality.

This principle is incorporated throughout the Agreement and developing countries like India can expect flexibility and support from the United States and the international community to help meet their climate objectives while also promoting sustainable development, growth, and the eradication of poverty.

How the U.S. is Combatting Climate Change

Over the past seven years, President Obama has committed the United States to combatting climate change at home and abroad.  Under his leadership, the United States made historic investments in growing industries like wind and solar energy, created nationwide standards to limit the amount of carbon pollution power plants can dump into the air our children breathe, and forged partnerships between federal, state, and local leaders to empower communities to protect themselves from some of the most immediate impacts of a changing climate.

We’ve also led on the global stage.  For example, the United States had consistently called for a phase-down of hydro-fluorocarbons under the auspices of the Montreal Protocol and financial and technical support from the Multilateral Fund.  In November, we secured an agreement to amend the Montreal Protocol to address the rapidly growing production and use of these “super greenhouse gasses” by 2016.

At the beginning of the climate conference, President Obama joined global leaders from countries like India, Germany, Japan, France, and China to accelerate global clean energy development via the aptly-named Mission Innovation, a landmark commitment to dramatically accelerate public and private global clean energy innovation.  Through the initiative, 20 countries representing 80 percent of global clean energy research and development budgets are committing to double their respective R&D investments over five years.  Under the leadership of Bill Gates, nearly 30 private sectors leaders in business, philanthropy, and academia – including Mukesh Ambani and Ratan Tata – united to launch the complementary Breakthrough Energy Coalition.   We also joined our Indian partners in support of the International Solar Alliance, which is a major clean energy initiative announced by Prime Minister Modi.

A week later, Secretary Kerry announced that the United States will double its grants-based, public climate finance for adaptation by 2020.  As of 2014, the United States has already invested more than $400 million per year of grant-based resources for climate adaptation in developing countries.  This investment provides vulnerable countries and communities with support through bilateral and multilateral channels to reduce climate risks in key areas, including infrastructure, agriculture, health, and water services.

Because the Agreement should serve as a floor for future climate action, the United States has encouraged sub-national entities, the private sector, and individual citizens to undertake complementary actions outside of this Agreement to adapt to climate change and mitigate their greenhouse gas emissions.

117 mayors of U.S. cities have joined together to capture the impact of cities’ collective actions to combat climate change.  Seven U.S. states have signed the “Under-2 MOU” which  commits signatories to cut greenhouse gas emissions 80-95% below 1990 levels, share technology and scientific research, expand zero-emission vehicles, improve air quality by reducing short-lived climate pollutants, and assess projected impacts of climate change on communities.  Over 300 U.S. universities – including my alma mater – have signed onto the Campus Act on Climate Pledge.

154 U.S. companies worth over $5 trillion and employing over 9 million people have signed the White House’s Act on Climate Pledge and have strongly demonstrated an on-going commitment to positive climate action.  Each company has announced a significant pledge to reduce their emissions, increase low-carbon investments, and deploy more clean energy.   Several U.S. retailers have committed to being powered by 100 percent renewable energy.  Biogen, a U.S. biotechnology company, is committed to reducing water usage by as much as 80 percent, and Unilever is pursuing zero net deforestation in their supply chains.

U.S.-India Actions to Combat Climate Change

Now no international agreement involving 190+ countries is perfect, this one included.  Even if all the initial targets set in Paris are met, we’ll only be part of the way there when it comes to reducing carbon from the atmosphere.  Simply put, we must not be complacent because the problem has not been solved.

But I share both the President’s belief that the relationship between India and the United States can be one of the defining partnerships of this century, and the Prime Minister’s conviction that our natural alliance can do amazing things for the world.

So what can we do together?

We can continue to strengthen and expand the highly successful U.S.-India Partnership to Advance Clean Energy.  We can also continue to expand bilateral engagement on clean energy and energy efficiency.  For example, we allocated $30 million to partner with India over five years to scale-up renewable energy integration into India’s power grid.  Our two countries have established the PACEsetter Fund and endowed it with $7.9 million to fund off-grid clean energy projects.  We likewise established a public-private partnership to mobilize $41 million in financing for clean energy entrepreneurs.

We are continuing to push forward to fully implement our landmark civil nuclear agreement and look forward to U.S.-built nuclear reactors generating safe and renewable energy for new generations of Indians.

Finally, we can launch the Fulbright-India Climate Fellowship to facilitate capacity building in climate research and expeditiously begin the air quality cooperation that our two leaders agreed upon in January.


46 years ago, the astronaut Neil Armstrong set foot on the Moon – as he said, a small step for him, but this was also giant leap for humanity.  The climate delegates from around the world did much the same thing in Paris on Saturday.

Now it’s up to us – you, me, and everyone else here today – to implement it.

So where do we begin?

I would note Prime Minister Modi’s wise counsel that the US and India should not just limit their cooperation to what we can do for each other, but what we together can do for the world to promote global peace and security and to protect the planet.  As I pointed out earlier hundreds of US universities have signed up for the American Campuses Act on Climate Pledge and I hope we can help create future partnerships between Banaras Hindu University and other Indian universities with their American counterparts to develop common plans of action on climate change on campuses and collaborating together to develop new technologies and new environmental policies that can promote a clean energy path for every country.  I was just in Silicon Valley in the fall with the Prime Minister and I saw first-hand the potential power of technology and Indian and American entrepreneurs to play a vital role in combatting climate change and protecting our planet.  There are no two countries that are better positioned to tackle this problem together than the US and India due to the existing deep and intensive cooperation between our two business communities and academic institutions.  I am very bullish on the future of this collaboration yielding great dividends in the future in tackling climate change, and I urge all of you to be a part of this effort.

We can and should continue to interact and learn from each other.  In this last year over 130,000 Indian students studied at US universities and we hope to grow that number substantially in the future.  I am confident that some of those students returning to India will recognize the enormous socioeconomic benefits of moving their businesses, organizations, and homes toward a low-carbon future.

Because of the strong people-to-people ties between our two nations, it’s only natural that the number of U.S. students coming to India to study for academic credit at their home university in the United States increased by five percent last year.  And there is no way they can miss being impressed by India’s vitality and growing strength.  As Prime Minister Modi seeks to implement Smart Cities, Make in India, the Swachh Bharat campaign, and deploy 175 gigawatts of clean, renewable energy by 2022, Americans will seek out Indian partners to design, manufacture, deploy, and maintain these cities, factories, service providers and innovative energy sources for India and indeed the world.

This will not be easy, but nothing worth doing ever is.  The students and institutions that incorporate adapting to climate change and mitigating greenhouse gas emissions into their curriculums and business plans with innovative technologies and methods will be better positioned to take advantage of new business instead of fighting amongst each other for diminishing market shares for older, less-desirable technologies and practices.

India and the U.S. have never been in a better position to lead the way on this vital issue and we have a lot to contribute.

Let’s get started.