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Biden’s Summit On Climate Crisis And Indian Responses – OpEd

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Earth Day on April 22 of 2021 became of great significance as American President Joe Biden kicked off a virtual summit inviting 40 world leaders. The Summit called “Leaders’ Summit on Climate”, was to underscore the urgency and the economic benefits of stronger climate action. 

The major powers of the world who matters most in any long-term decisions related to ‘Global Warming’ and ‘Climate Change’: Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin, Angela Merkel, Yoshihide Suga, Narendra Modi, Emmanuel Macron, Boris Johnson, Scott Morrison, Justin Trudeau, and Jair Bolsonaro were the notable leaders who attended the virtual Summit. 

The American comeback to Paris Agreement and to initiatives related to Climate Change, itself is a great event. It’s a giant leap forward on part of Biden as it brought the Climate Crisis in the centre of the international discourse. The Summit has following implications: 

  • Biden announced an ambitious cut in greenhouse gas emissions as he was found to be determined to put the US back at the centre of the global effort to address the climate crisis and curb carbon emissions. Biden recognised that climate crisis is an existential threat of our time and a moral and economic imperative and is a moment of extraordinary possibilities. Biden’s initiative is a bold step preceding the Conference of Parties (CoP26) Summit at Glasgow (UK) scheduled to be held during November 1 to 12, 2021.
  • Presidents of Russia and China attended amidst the on-going confrontation with the US reveals the eagerness on both sides to confront each other on different foreign policy issues but work together on ‘Policies related to Climate Change’.
  • Global average temperature has been consistently rising. The COP21 which led to Paris Climate Accord aims to keep the global average temperature from rising by 1.50C (2.70F) above pre-industrial levels and, failing which, at least take measures to contain it from reaching 20C (3.60F). Even at 1.50C of warming, much of the world will likely see sea-level rise which will submerge millions of homes underwater, record breaking droughts and floods, and widespread species loss. Future, thus seems to be quite bleak. Scientists estimate that the world has already hit 1.10C of warming and could reach 1.50C as early as 2030. Hence, climate pledges that have been made by different countries are not ambitious enough., Biden Summit is well in context with time, need and aspirations of countries. 
  • China, the US, EU and India are the top four emitters of CO2 in absolute terms, the US has a much greater per capita emission statistics than China and India. Hence, the onus of steering all initiatives related to Climate Change lies on these three nation-states of the world. These three countries are also major economies of the world. Among the three US and India are two countries which were and are the worst sufferer on account of still on-going COVID-19 driven Pandemic of 2020 and 2021. Their economies have suffered badly hence how far they would be forthcoming towards bearing the burden of reducing the release of Green House Gas. Biden Summit has made them to think before they meet at Glasgow. 
  • Greenhouse gas emissions and global temperatures are continuing to rise. Therefore, the need is to announce more ambitious emissions-reduction targets by major contributors of the world and urge other countries also to follow suit is another imperative. After fixing the target all need to evolve policies to achieve the targets. However, most countries were moving at a snail pace. The US initiative to bring back the Climate Change agenda to focus is a welcome step, as it has also led to announcement of revised targets by major powers. 

Biden’s initiative is certainly a great and timely improvisation upon his predecessors especially Trump and Obama towards institutionalization of climate action globally. US has also scored diplomatically by engaging with the rivals like China and Russia to put the things on rails. Thus, to make the presence of countries like China, the EU and Russia possible is significant to achieve the targets that could not have been achieved unilaterally. The Summit, thus has set the pace for the forthcoming COP26 at Glasgow by making meaningful interactions during the Earth Day Summit of 2021 and make major powers to reiterate their commitments.

India’s Status and Role on Climate Change:

India’s Announcements for NDCs: India is the fourth-largest emitter and has pledged to have renewable energy sources account for 40 percent of its total electricity generation by 2030 and to significantly boost forest coverage. India also aims at reducing its emissions per unit of gross domestic product (GDP), a ratio known as emissions intensity, by 33 to 35 percent from its 2005 level. India too has not yet submitted an updated NDCs. India also seeks to have 40% of power generated from non-fossil fuel sources by 2030. Coal continues to be major source of firing its thermal power production. Thus, India too needs to lower the use of Coal in its energy profile alongside several other measures to be taken to reduce the emissions of CO2 and other Green House Gases.

India’s Announcement at April 22, 2021 Summit:

Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi participated in the April 22, 2021 virtual Summit on Climate Change organised on the invitation and initiative of American President Joe Biden. Modi made several announcement and commitment during the “Leaders’ Summit on Climate”, on the occasion of Earth Day, which are as follows: 

  • That India and the US were launching an energy and climate partnership. He further elaborated that India and US are launching the “India-US Climate and Clean Energy Agenda 2030 Partnership”. The objective is to help mobilise investments, demonstrate clean technologies, and enable green collaborations. Ministry of External Affairs released a joint statement to this effect. The goal of the partnership was stated as follows:
  • to, “mobilise finance and speed clean energy deployment; 
  • demonstrate and scale innovative clean technologies needed to decarbonise sectors, including industry, transportation, power, and buildings; and 
  • build capacity to measure, manage, and adapt to the risks of climate-related impacts.
  • That India has many development challenges and yet has taken bold steps on clean energy, and energy efficiency, afforestation and bio-diversity.
  • That India is one of the few countries whose NDCs are 20C compatible. Hence, India as a climate responsible nation-state has been making all endeavours to contain the climate change by changing its energy profile. 
  • That India’s per capita carbon footprint is 60% lower than the global average, owing to the lifestyle which is still rooted in sustainable traditional practices. The pattern of consumption in India which is often accused by western nations as unfriendly to environment and contribute to global warming is in fact environment friendly as they are hardly able to eke out square meal a day. The poor and lower middle-class people consume food items which are not tech-intensive. Hence, their carbon footprint is much less that those whose foods are more tech-intensive. 
  • That India is a climate-responsible developing country and welcomes the partners to create templates of sustainable development in India. These may also help other developing countries, who need affordable access to green finance and clean technology. 

Thus, the partnership according to Modi endeavours to proceed along two main tracks: the strategic clean energy partnership and the climate action and finance mobilisation dialogue, which will build on and subsume a range of existing processes.

However, amidst the Pandemic driven economic setback how far India would be able to invest in clean energy and bring a major change in its erstwhile energy profile is a doubtful proposition. India’s aspirations under the present political dispensations have been very high as it has revised and upgraded the solar power production targets on a very broad scale. Thus, India is making efforts to move to clean energy as fast as possible. Yet, the COVID-driven Pandemic has slowed the pace of its economy considerably, there for how things will unfold in coming future would be interesting to wait and watch. 

*Alok Kumar Gupta, Associate Professor and HoD, Department of Politics and International Relations Dean, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Central University of Jharkhand 

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