New Delhi: India is central to the Indo-Pacific strategic construct even as the UK is now aiming to strengthen defence and trade ties between both countries, said British High Commissioner to India Alex Ellis.
Ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Glasgow, UK, for the COP26 Summit and his bilateral meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the envoy told ThePrint in an exclusive interaction that India’s role and what steps it takes in tackling climate change will have an impact on the world because of the country’s scale and size.
Alluding to the fact that both prime ministers have been in “constant touch” with each other, the British envoy said the UK believes that the Indo-Pacific is at the “centre of the world” and India is an integral element in it.
“The UK has already set out its ambition for this part of the world, for the Indo-Pacific, in the integrated review it produced in March this year. It is a long-term strategy document. That really puts the Indo-Pacific at the centre of the world over the coming decades and India is absolutely central to the Indo-Pacific,” he told ThePrint.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is currently in Italy, will be visiting Glasgow, UK, on November 1-2 to attend the COP26 Summit and will also hold a bilateral meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on the sidelines.
The UK had released the Integrated Review 2021 in March this year in which it spelt out its plans for the Indo-Pacific. As a part of that long-term strategy document, British Foreign Secretary Elizabeth Truss visited India on 22-24 October along with the UK’s Carrier Strike Group 21 (CSG21), led by the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth.
India and the UK also held their inaugural maritime dialogue in a virtual format on 18 October 2021.
According to High Commissioner Ellis, India and the UK have a “historical and complex relationship” and they have now set their focus on five pillars — defence, health, environment, people-to-people exchanges and trade — for growth in bilateral ties
“On defence and security, we just had here the carrier strike, UK’s biggest naval deployment since the second World War, and unprecedented levels of exercises with the Indian Navy, Air Force and the Army. So quite a lot of implementation going on,” he said.
He added that both sides are now going to soon launch the India-UK free trade agreement (FTA) talks as both sides aim to double their bilateral trade by 2030. India-UK bilateral trade reached $25.3 billion in 2020.
“We need to double our trade by 2030. So a trade deal should be part of that. All trade negotiations are complicated … But in the end, what strikes is the strength of the political will and the strategic imperatives on both sides to reach a trade deal as part of an overall transformation of the relationship,” he added.
“Of course, there are sensitive issues, there always are, but if the will is there then I think then there will be a way.”
‘Glasgow is last best chance to avoid seriously harmful climate change’
The UK this year is hosting the 26th Conference of Parties (COP26) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), in Glasgow. This was supposed to be held in 2020 but due the onset of the Covid pandemic, it got delayed.
“Glasgow is the world’s last best chance to avoid seriously harmful climate change … It affects every country in the world,” the British envoy said. “We already have plans in place but we need to go further. India has already gone further nationally in terms of what it is achieving, for example, in the use of renewable energy.
“What we want is for countries, including India, to fold its national achievements into new plans up to 2030 and secondly to set a long-term plan for how they are going to do the transformation of their economy,” he added.
At the COP 26 summit, richer countries are expected to push India and other poorer nations to aim for a net zero emission target.
But India, which is the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases, has reportedly rejected the calls for such a target. China and the US are the first and second largest emitters, respectively.
“India is essential to that because of its scale, because it is developing fast and wants to develop fast and has the opportunity to leapfrog in terms of technology, in terms of creating new employment, into a new way of doing the economy, so we are hoping for ambition for India, we are hoping ambition for lots of other countries… India’s ambition also affects the world partly because of the scale, size,” the British envoy said.
Ellis added that PM Modi and PM Johnson will be launching some initiatives which are going to have “global impact”.
“The huge renewable drive that is happening in India is going to benefit India’s neighbours… Climate change affects every country in the world,” Ellis said.
According to him, the wealthy countries “absolutely have to contribute more”.
He said the UK has almost halved its greenhouse gas emissions compared to the 1990 level and has plans to reduce further by 78 per cent by 2035.
On the $100 billion climate fund, the UK High Commissioner said plans on how to achieve that and roll it out by 2023 is critical and will be discussed in the summit.
“It is an essential element of ensuring that every country in the world, including India, can make that big transformation to a sustainable economy,” he said.
(Edited by Arun Prashanth)