International Solar Alliance
Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of the world’s fastest growing economy, and the Emmanuel Macron, President of the world’s most aggressive climate change saviour have a rendezvous starting from 9 March in New Delhi. They truly represent the strongest redeemers of the world’s most formidable challenges of today’s climate change, terrorism and inequality. And no one knows more than these two leaders that combating these three enemies would require tremendous political will and resources. That is because confronting them is not an exercise of three separate encounters on three fronts. They are interlinked and complex clusters.
Combatting the challenges together
Climate change is turning to aggravate inequality that drives terrorism creating a vicious spiral of storms. The good news is that the two leaders are compatible with each other and likeminded. Macron is a great listener and keen to learn from elders, like Modi. And Modi is a staunch believer that the young leaders like Macron would be the tomorrow’s stewards to steer the world in the right direction in the milieu of a political quagmire. Modi is innovative and Macron is inventive. The combination of attributes of these two leaders is giving shape to one of the path-breaking projects that have emerged form Modi’s brave innovative initiative: the International Solar Alliance.
Modi won the hearts of many heads of the states, politicians and business community when he disclosed his invention of ‘International Solar Alliance’ (ISA) of the 121 countries that lie wholly or partially in between Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn. Macron, naturally inclined to creative initiatives, not only supported it but agreed to be co-chair of this intergovernmental treaty-based organization earlier partnered with his predecessor Francoise Hollande in 2016.
With targeted 1,000 GW of solar installations globally by 2030 with proposed funds of US $1 trillion, the basic concept of an alliance is to pool together international collaboration for research, technology, best practices and standards on solar energy including improving solar cell efficiency, material research and policies. ISA has entered into force on December 6th, 2017, after 15 countries officially ratified it. The number of countries participating is steadily growing. ISA heralds a new era of partnerships and collective actions to combat effects of climate change, reduce the dependence on the fossil fuels and reduce air pollution.
What the ISA entails
The region between two Tropics is really the ‘sun-shine belt’ around the Earth. The countries in this tropical belt receive the most solar energy among the 196 countries in the world. Modi has scored over a strategic and diplomatic tactic of President Xi of China who has almost concurrently flagged One Belt One Road initiative (OBOR). ISA, a real belt of 121 countries stands out in comparison to OBOR initiative (now renamed as Belt and Road Initiative: BRI) on two counts. Firstly, BRI is aimed at enhancing the connectivity to take a quantum jump in trade, mainly between China and other 68 countries without specific acknowledgement of the environmental impacts of such jump. ISA is the masterpiece of the environmental project that aims at a sustainable development of 121 countries in the tropical belt. BRI is viewed by many as a project led by one country with its hidden interest. ISA is a bilateral initiative of India and France that has now transformed into an intergovernmental treaty with voting mandates, leveraging the principles of United Nations. Clearly, it is wider and honest efforts towards sustainable development.
Indeed Nature plays a role of the great balancer. Rich countries, mainly outside the belt of two tropics, are replete with finance and weapon power, whereas ISA-countries are endowed with bright sunlight. The economic revolution in oil-rich countries in 70’s is likely to repeat in sun-rich countries, this time without any climate change impact. In fact, ISA would be the correction factor to the climatic damage done by OPEC countries. Any country in the world, even outside the tropical belt can join ISA, except that those lying outside the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn would not have voting rights. Thus France and recently joined Australia would not be voting. It is a great experiment of the real multilateral treaty resulting from bilateral ingenuity.
The timing of the official launch of the initiative cannot be better. The prices of the electricity from solar energy are reaching parity with the electricity produced by fossil fuel. The latest report from International Energy Agency (IEA) shows that the global investments made in the renewable energy over last 3 years are more than the investment made in fossil fuel. The employment generated in the renewable energy sectors is more than in fossil fuels. Some experts say that increasing and intensifying trade wars and anti-dumping appeals on solar panels around the world are signs that trade in solar panels is ‘pole vaulting’.
The risks involved
The time for Modi-Macron mega moment has arrived. The impending risk, however, that likely overshadows this aspiring global initiative due to the unrelated political debate and deals on the military cannot be overruled. Numbers like three additional Scorpene submarines and thirty-six Rafale-fighters are likely to take over the well-meant number in gigawatts and well-intentioned timely initiative, particularly in India’s argumentative and democratic media.
Yet another risk is the usual pitfalls of the intergovernmental process well known in the arena of United Nations. Each of the 121 countries has one vote but also a stand-alone opinion. That may delay the decisions on joint research on solar cell efficiencies and storage technologies as well as allotment of funding for various projects.
It is important to recognize that there is a number of strategic and potentially desired dimension of the Sustainable development Goals (SDGs) that ISA can achieve. Its contribution to SDGs of eradicating poverty, energy for all, climate change, partnerships would be significant.
The key to success
The key to success, however, is linking ISA to the common man at the bottom of the pyramid. What is more relevant for India is not to push ISA to meet its own pledges for Paris Climate agreement or its own renewable energy targets of 175 GW but to anchor its efforts to mainstream solar and wind energy into all strata of the societies. Emphasize on using solar power not only in building sector but also in sectors that are socially important like agriculture, health, SMEs, IT industry and university campuses should be the key. It is important that ISA not only targets the funding and gigawatt targets but takes the targets to the rural area through solar vaccine coolers, solar vegetable cold storages, solar schools and solar colleges. India and France should also set up an example by encouraging solar cell and panel manufacturing in Tropic-Belt countries and supporting the fair and just practices in trade in products related to solar energy.
It will not be an exaggeration to state that if ISA works smoothly and fulfils the promise, can be a well deserving candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize.