US President Joe Biden has discovered India as a partner to back one of his most endearing concerns—climate change. This was a commitment he made to his party and his electorate. True to his word, on day one itself, he used his authority to join the Paris Agreement—the international treaty on climate change.
Now Biden is holding a two-day virtual summit with world leaders on April 22-23, for which he has extended the invite to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The White House website says: "The Leaders’ Summit on Climate will underscore the urgency - and the economic benefits - of stronger climate action. It will be a key milestone on the road to the United Nations Climate Change conference (COP26) this November in Glasgow."
Following up on his commitment to save the world from a warmer climate, Biden is now sending US Special Presidential Envoy for climate, John Kerry, to Delhi to discuss the critical issue. With Biden’s official standing at India’s door step, the country will have to strike the fine balance between growth and environment.
Manjeev Puri, Distinguished Fellow TERI and former Indian ambassador has been the lead negotiator for India at climate change negotiations. He is happy that the US is back on the international stage.
Puri says: "India must engage with the US in a constructive manner. India is a country where a natural ethos is ingrained regarding environmental protection. The Prime Minister himself has been recognized as an environment champion by the UN". He adds that the climate agenda is important for the US administration as it was a key running plank for the Biden-Harris duo.
Puri underscores that India is doing a lot of climate change work. "Our carbon emissions are much less than the global average. Also, India is at the forefront of decarbonising through renewables. At the same time, India has major development goals and we need to progress. For achieving our development goals, we need that carbon space" Puri says.
About John Kerry's visit this week, Puri relates it to the importance that Biden attaches to climate change. "When Kerry is in Delhi, we should engage on climate justice, technology innovation, collaboration and green finance. We have to arrive at an understanding about the fairness and equity of having carbon space for India as it needs to grow."
The former diplomat also wants Indian leaders to not only highlight the action and commitment that India has towards environmental protection but also ask him to "walk the talk about financial resources that the US can put towards helping the world decarbonise."
The change in US leadership has put climate change on the global pedestal. From a sceptic Trump to a believer Biden, environment has been thrust into the global limelight. Even as countries, now led by an energised US, wipe the dust off their climate change policies, there are hopes that governments will take environment seriously.
Climate expert, Dr Shalini Sharma, Founder Director, Global Institute for Circular Economy & SDGs, says: "Kerry’s visit may enable new directions and mould the countries to work for climate friendly development. His Asia visit is a good sign not only because Asian countries are highly vulnerable to climate impacts but also because these countries need strong strategies, technologies and support to combat climate change."
Sharma is a consultant with businesses and governments on issues like low carbon development, e-waste policy, GHG accounting and similar other areas. She says that greenhouse gas emissions are a local phenomenon with global impact.
Talking about Biden’s Leaders’ Summit, Sharma says: "Governments have a responsibility to Inventorise, Monitor and Validate (real time) the emissions from any state or country. We have well researched mechanisms to do this real time for GHG emissions but sadly, not much of this is implemented. Can efforts by President Biden make these 40 countries showcase the GHG Emissions dashboard to the world?"
She says that if these real GHG emission figures are visible to all, that would enable effective strategies to be formulated on all sectors and not just energy. This would help to strategise better for ‘Net Zero’ emissions, attract investments into R&D, bring more investment on climate ‘Action’ and induce transparency on climate budget, actions and impact.
In a similar manner, Damandeep Singh, Director, CDP India, too is enthused by US action on climate. CDP studies the environmental impacts of companies, cities and regions by the information they provide.
Singh says: "A Presidential summit-level convening is a good signal for climate action. Glad to see the focus of both - the Leaders’ Summit and the COP26 would be to catalyse efforts to limit warming to 1.5 degrees."
He adds that this is a good opportunity to focus on "advance innovative technologies and efforts to help vulnerable countries adapt to climate impacts along with ways to demonstrate how enhanced climate ambition will create green jobs that pay well."
For Singh, what is also important is that the summit will reconvene the US-led Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate, which brings together 17 countries responsible for approximately 80 per cent of global emissions and global GDP. He says this is important because even as some of the biggest industries produce large emissions, they are equally vulnerable to climate change impacts also.