With International Solar Alliance, India seeks its place under the sun

By launching International Solar Alliance, India signalled it would use it as a foreign policy tool to cement leadership among developing countries


In January last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and French President Francois Hollande laid the foundation stone of ISA at Gurugram near New Delhi. Photo: Reuters
In January last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and French President Francois Hollande laid the foundation stone of ISA at Gurugram near New Delhi. Photo: Reuters

New Delhi: In November 2015, India launched the International Solar Alliance (ISA) at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) along with France.

It was a move that signalled Asia’s third- largest economy and one of the world’s fastest-growing emerging economies was ready to drop its defensive position on climate change and embrace renewable energy—solar power—in a big way. It also signalled that New Delhi, under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, would employ it as a foreign policy tool to cement its leadership among developing countries—vastly eroded by countries like China in the past decades.

“It (India launching ISA) was a departure from India’s past position taken at previous conferences on climate change that industrialised countries must pay for the pollution caused in the past and leave developing countries like India out of this because of their development needs and constraints,” said former foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh.

He was referring to India’s stance at previous UNFCCC conferences like those at the Hague in the Netherlands in 2000 and Germany and Morocco in 2001, where India had based its argument on the fact that its emission levels—despite being a large developing country—were still lower than those of industrialized countries like the US. India had also stressed on the fact that industrialized economies like the US should cut their emissions more drastically than developing countries like India which had a long way to go before catching up with industrialized economies.

“The Modi government realized that green energy is beneficial for us for our own sake. And given that India’s efforts at harnessing nuclear power are slower than we had thought after the India-US nuclear deal (clinched in 2008), solar energy is a good option,” said Mansingh. “Instead of regarding it as an expensive experiment, the Modi government is looking at developing solar energy as a major source of clean energy for India that can meet our huge requirements for energy.”

ISA is an alliance of 121 countries situated between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn that enjoy 300 days of sunshine.

In January last year, Prime Minister Modi and French President Francois Hollande laid the foundation stone of ISA at Gurugram near New Delhi. Besides, the World Bank last year signed an agreement with ISA to mobilize $1 trillion in investments by 2030.

ISA is part of India’s National Democratic Alliance government’s plans to generate energy through renewables. The target for solar power generation has been increased to 100 gigawatts by 2022 from 20,000 megawatts earlier. Besides embracing a climate change-friendly fuel, there are other benefits too for India adopting solar energy and launching ISA, said a government official who did not want to be named.

“India can develop technologies and equipment for its domestic market as well as sell to countries with similar needs,” said the official.

“This also makes India a leader among developing countries in terms of presenting the novel idea of harnessing the power of the sun and showing that developing countries can give constructive and feasible ideas for global problems like climate change,” said the official.

Mansingh agreed that ISA had helped India burnish its credentials among its peers in the developing world, given that India’s strategic rival China had taken on the mantle of leader and representative of developing countries in a number of areas and a number of international fora. “The ISA launch does establish India as a voice of authority in the developing world on clean energy,” he said.

The ISA framework agreement was opened for signing up at the Conference of the Parties at Marrakesh in November last year and 25 countries including France, Bangladesh, Brazil and Tanzania have joined it. The assembly will meet after 15 of these signatories ratify ISA. The alliance will have an assembly, a council and a secretariat. The Indian government will support the secretariat for five years, after which it would have to generate its own resources. The secretariat has been set up at the National Institute of Solar Energy in Gurugram.

ISA will also collaborate with other multilateral bodies such as the International Energy Agency, the International Renewable Energy Agency and the United Nations. “The PMO (Prime Minister’s Office) is taking a keen interest in the ISA, the first such treaty-based international government organization headquartered in India.” said a person aware of the development requesting anonymity.

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