India spews massive amounts of carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired electric generating plants into the atmosphere. The world as a whole would greatly benefit if India got more of its electricity from renewable sources like solar, the way China is doing. The Chinese are in the middle of a major push to eliminate their coal-fired plants and replace them with electricity from renewable sources. But while India’s total emissions are huge, on a per capita basis they are only one tenth those of the United States.

At the COP21 conference in Paris last December, India made major concessions in order to bring itself in line with the general agreement reached at that conference. It said that instead of continuing its drive to build more coal-fired plants, it would prioritize the development of renewable sources, particularly solar.

While the US has publicly praised India for its courageous stand, it has filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization claiming that India’s solar power incentives are in breach of global standards because they favored local businesses. That was unfair to American solar interests the US said and the WTO agreed.

Specifically, India has imposed so-called Domestic Content Requirements or DCRs on thin-film solar products installed within the country. US companies currently dominate the thin-film solar market in India and they cried foul. The WTO agreed.

“Today, we have more evidence of how free trade rules threaten the clean energy economy and undermine action to tackle the climate crisis,” Ilana Solomon, director of the Sierra Club’s Responsible Trade Program, said on Thursday. “The U.S. should be applauding India’s efforts to scale up solar energy—not turning to the WTO to strike the program down.”

Solomon went on to say the WTO “needs to get out of the business of hampering climate action in countries around the globe. The outdated trade rules on the books now and under negotiation in trade pacts including the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership encourage trade in fossil fuels and discourage countries from developing local clean energy capacity.”

“These rules simply do not reflect the urgency of solving the climate crisis and stand in the way of clean energy growth,” Solomon added.

According to an estimate from Faith Birol, chief economist at the International Energy Agency, eliminating subsidies for oil, gas, and coal would cut world GHG emissions in half. That move alone would keep the planet under the 2 degrees Celsius limit needed to avert a global environmental catastrophe.

The biggest challenge to solar power on an international scale is not technology. It is autocratic private organizations like the WTO that can block economic programs designed to address global emissions and climate change. The proposed Trans Pacific Partnership would add yet another layer of bureaucrats with the power to override the policies of elected political leaders.

While the US says it is an active partner in helping developing nations curb their carbon emissions, in reality it is working in the background to prolong the fossil fuel era. We need a coordinated strategy on renewable energy that does not interfere with our publicly stated goals.