Wednesday, July 28, 2021

US Special envoy for climate John Kerry’s visit to India

By Ash Narain Roy, Director, Institute of Social Sciences, Delhi

The visit of the US Special envoy for climate John Kerry to India within weeks of Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin’s visit underlines the significance of Indo-US ties. President Joe Biden has reversed the Trump administration’s not so prudent climate-denialist policy to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement and has taken a series of decisions like halting the controversial XL pipeline and moratorium on federal oil and gas leasing. In a statement at the White House, President Biden said that “it is not time for small measures.” Apparently, the new administration is making up for the four years in which the US was, what Mr Kerry says, “ inexcusably absent.”

President Biden has invited 40 world leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the leaders’ summit on climate that he will host on April 22 and 23 and the COP26 meet to be held later this year.

Mr Kerry’s discussions with Environment Minister Mr Prakash Javadekar and other senior officials are seen as part of Washington’s aim to galvanise world leaders of major economies to reduce emissions and take a number of measures to address the climate crisis. The talks covered other critical issues like climate finance, joint research and collaboration. As the spokesperson of the US Embassy claimed, the Biden Administration is “supporting and encouraging India’s decarbonization efforts through clean, zero and low-carbon investment and supporting India in mitigating its fossil energy use.”

The US sees India as an important partner in mobilizing global support for addressing the key challenges posed by the climate crisis. India has its own ambitious International Solar Alliance which aims to harness solar energy to fight climate change. As of January 15, 2021, 89 Countries have signed the Framework Agreement of the ISA.

The challenges are indeed daunting. It is not easy for India to set as yet the net-zero emission target by the mid-century. From global platforms, India has been articulating its positions about the need for equitable access to carbon space. While mitigation is important, the Paris agreement must be viewed in its entirety. One of the important principles of the Paris agreement is “common but differentiated responsibility.” India has invoked the aspect of climate justice which clearly outlines that the rich and poor countries can’t be expected to share the burden equally.

The Western world has been responsible for the bulk of carbon emissions and hence their responsibility is far greater. The developing countries need technology and resources to do their bit. They need to be incentivized to lower their per capita emissions.

It is late for action, but perhaps it is not too late to avoid some of the worst impacts of climate change. In the years since Kyoto, the world has undertaken significant efforts to ratchet down energy consumption, curtail coal burning and turn to renewable energy sources, yet overall emissions have increased. Today there are 7.7 billion people on the planet — twice as many as 50 years ago — and more people means more demand for power, especially in fast-growing countries such as India and China.

We can no longer avert or reverse climate change; we can definitely mitigate its worst effects and adapt to other challenges. We can expect people to be displaced by drought, river flooding, hurricanes and typhoons. This may lead to political instability, civil unrest and mass migration. Climate change is proving to be a threat multiplier.

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