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International Solar Alliance: Turning on the lights

The roof of a ‘solar kitchen’ in Auroville, India The roof of a ‘solar kitchen’ in Auroville, India Marco Saroldi
28 Apr
More than two years after first being announced, the International Solar Alliance has finally held a conference

‘The sun is the source of all energy. The world must turn to solar, the power of our future.’ These optimistic words were spoken in 2015 by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during COP21 in Paris. India had just signed an agreement with then-French President François Hollande for the two countries to lead a new initiative known as the ‘International Solar Alliance’ (ISA). But what became of this bold initiative?

In March this year, the alliance finally met in New Delhi for its founding conference, some 27 months after first being formed. The heads of 23 nations and ten ministerial representatives were in attendance. At the conference, President Macron was keen to emphasise the potential significance of bringing together so many countries in this way, pointing out that the ISA should cover 75 per cent of the global population, but also acknowledged the multiple regulatory challenges that need to be overcome in the process. ‘It is not enough to look at what governments are doing,’ he said. ‘We need a new international deal with the private sector, the international public sector and the civil society as well. It is common good, and it is for the development of all countries.’

modi macronNarendra Modi and Emmanuel Macron (Image: Frederic Legrand - COMEO)

As the hosts for the ground-breaking COP21 Paris summit, France has taken an active role in both the organising and the financing of the ISA from the very start. Guest of honour at the inaugural conference was current French president Emmanuel Macron, who used the occasion to pledge a tripling of France’s original financial commitments with an additional €700million, bringing its total pledge to around €1billion. Major development banks have also pledged funds, such as the Asian Development Bank’s $3billion per year by 2020, to add to the partnerships already entered into with the European Investment Bank and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

The goal of the ISA is to boost solar energy in developing countries, particularly those ‘solar resource-rich countries lying fully or partially between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn’. As well as encouraging cooperation and sharing of best practice between these countries, the ISA’s purpose is to raise funds, specifically the astonishing $1trillion it claimed was required by 2030 in order to undertake the mass deployment of solar technology required to generate as much as 1TW (1,000GW) of electricity, thereby meeting the aspirational goals of the Paris Agreement.

In the shorter term, goals include creating investment opportunities, assisting members in drafting policies to encourage the adoption of solar energy, and striving for universal access to solar-powered lighting.

In theory, the alliance covers 121 countries whose national territories cross into the tropics. The ISA treaty became open for members to join after COP22 in Morocco in 2016, with first-day signings including India, Brazil, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Dominican Republic, the Republic of Guinea, Mali, Nauru, Niger, Tanzania, Tuvalu, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, Bangladesh and Madagascar.

To date, there are 61 signatories, with 33 countries having since fully ratified the agreement.

India has hopes of being a global leader in solar power, and ever since the alliance was announced, renewable capacity in the country has leapt from 39GW to 62GW. Climate Action Tracker forecasts an additional 154 to 267GW of solar and wind power to be installed in the country by 2030, which would make India compatible with the 2ºC threshold assigned by the Paris Agreement.’

This was published in the May 2018 edition of Geographical magazine

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