International solar alliance: India’s place under the Sun

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It has been a heady journey for the International Solar Alliance (ISA). In a little over two years, it transitioned from a high-profile announcement at the 2015 Paris climate summit to an intergovernmental organisation under the UN charter, holding its first summit that was attended by 23 heads of State and government. In the world of international diplomacy, this has been rapid progress. Now, the alliance must deliver on its promise.

What makes ISA a true game-changer is that it is a partnership of countries lying fully, or partially, between the tropics, mostly developing countries, which despite being endowed with excellent solar insolation, are among the most energy-poor. ISA is aconcerted and coordinated effort to enable these countries to improve the lives of their people through applications of solar technologies in a cost-effective manner.

In coming together, these countries can work together to find locally appropriate solutions, aggregate demand to suitably modified technology that is affordable, and access financial resources necessary for large-scale deployment. In that, ISA encapsulates the spirit of Paris Agreement: what every country can do, and how we can do better together. Not only is the alliance the most concrete outcome of the Paris Agreement, it is also key to achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In ensuring the deployment of solar applications, ISA can essay transformational change — a shift to more sustainable systems of production and consumption, while bringing millions of those unserved by modern energy and economic systems into the fold.

It now needs to demonstrate measurable success, not just for detractors who questioned the need for yet another intergovernmental agency but, more importantly, to demonstrate utility value to its member States. With developing countries working towards implementing their nationally determined contributions — or domestic climate action plans — under the Paris Agreement, the alliance will play a key role.

The ISA is an enabler and facilitator. It is not an agency providing funds or technology, but one that will help create the conditions that will make funding, developing and deploying solar applications on a large-scale a reality. To this end, it must emerge as atruly international body putting the spotlight of ideas, advances and technologies from across the world, not just from the dominant players. The alliance’s mantra is action with one clear aim: affordable energy for all. For this, it must set goals with clear timelines. It already has three work programmes under progress: affordable finance at scale, scaling solar applications for agricultural use, and scaling solar mini grid. Two more programmes — scaling rooftop and scaling solar-supported e-mobility — are expected to be announced at its first general assembly in April. ISA must now set clear measurable and deliverable goals for these work programmes rather than expanding its portfolio. Its success in delivering on existing programmes will pave the way for newer programmes.

Capital costs present the biggest obstacle to solar deployment. Access to affordable financing has also proved to be difficult, which means having this high on the alliance’s agenda. It has made considerable progress so far by reaching out to governments and multilateral development agencies to earmark funds for solar projects in its member States.

ISA’s advocacy efforts with GoI led to it earmarking 20% of the Africa Fund for solar projects. Similar efforts are underway with other governments. The alliance set up a multi-stakeholder taskforce to develop a common risk-mitigation mechanism that can, by diversifying and pooling risks, help catalyse domestic and international private institutional capital.

For India, the establishment of ISA represents an important diplomatic achievement. As the originator of the idea and host, India has a special responsibility in ensuring that ISA delivers on its promise. If it succeeds, India will have presented the world with an alternative model of development, one that is collaborative, equitable, practical, transformative and sustainable. It is India’s chance to provide global leadership to address the biggest challenges confronting humanity: poverty, climate change. The time for talk is over. To borrow French President Emmanuel Macron’s words, ‘Now let’s get to work.

Source: Economic Times