LAWRENCE — India is one of the world’s largest growing economies and a major carbon emitter. Meanwhile, the United States recently announced it was leaving the Paris Climate Accord. A University of Kansas law professor has returned from a teaching and research trip to India dedicated to exploring energy governance models in India, the United States and their respective places in the world.
Uma Outka, professor of law at KU, was part of a Global Initiative for Academic Network two-week intensive course on renewable energy law and policy at the Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur and Rajiv Gandhi School of Intellectual Property Law. The course consisted of students studying law, technology, intellectual property and related topics who will work in energy law and renewable energy fields. The course offered students a broad look at energy policy as it currently stands in India with the intention to anticipate challenges in achieving the nation’s renewable energy goals and to compare them to energy law in the United States and international organizations such as the European Union.
“I was invited to provide the comparative, international context for energy law, with a focus on electricity policy,” Outka said. “Right now, India has very ambitious goals for renewable energy development as part of its national commitment to the Paris Accord.”
The elephant in any room discussing international energy is the United States leaving the Paris Accord. The topic came up during the intensive course, and Outka outlined what that decision means on a national scale, but she pointed out that does not represent the end of American involvement in renewable energy, its development, innovation or access. As part of the course, she helped students understand the structure of American government and the difference between federal and state law and policy as well as how President Donald Trump’s decision does not change what many states are doing. Hawaii, for example, has a goal of reaching 100 percent renewable energy, while California and New York have ambitious goals as well. Kansas has reached about 35 percent of its energy coming from wind production. There are many nations that are making unique contributions to the goal of climate change mitigation while working within their governmental structures that differ from India’s in ways large and small.
“I shared how we have numerous states taking part and innovating in renewable energy under the auspices of ‘we’re still in.’ Although the federal stance may change, that only tells part of the story,” Outka said. “The Paris Accord acknowledges every country comes to the climate mitigation challenge from unique circumstances. As a class, we spent time drawing international comparisons. It is an exciting field because it is evolving very quickly – policy is driving technology, and technology is driving policy – so everyone is learning.”
Outka specializes in energy, environmental and property law in her teaching and research. She has written articles and book chapters on related topics such as the low-carbon shift, public power, barriers to renewable energy and American cities leading the switch to a low carbon energy grid.
Outka collaborated with Uday Shankar, assistant professor in the Rajiv Gandhi School of Intellectual Property Law at the Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur, an expert in energy and public law who has written widely on the topics.
“He is helping define the field of energy law within Indian legal education,” Outka said of Shankar. “It’s not a subject that’s been taught widely India yet, which takes us back to where we were here in the U.S. about 10 or 15 years ago. He’s helping to lead that transition.”
One goal of the initiative was to create connections between institutions of higher learning, scholars and to link students and future leaders in the field with today’s leading international teachers and researchers. Discussions included future areas of energy law and policy research, collaboration, student involvement and recruitment. In addition to those discussions, Outka said she learned a great deal about energy and property law in India and the challenges the country faces in numerous areas that will assist her in her future teaching and research. Large segments of the population do not have access to electricity and face food and water insecurity as well.
“I came back with a lot of respect for the academic excellence and legal research of the faculty. In energy policy, India faces so many challenges we don’t have here in the U.S., especially energy access. I felt a lot of admiration for the effort at the IIT and the law school to advance legal studies in this area and look forward to future collaborations,” Outka said.
Photo: Smoky Hills Wind Farm in in Lincoln and Ellsworth counties, Kansas. Credit: WikiCommons