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Why US climate envoy John Kerry will visit India before Biden summit, UN meet

John Kerry is on a 3-nation tour of UAE, India and Bangladesh between 1 and 9 April. In India, he is expected to meet Modi and Javadekar.

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New Delhi: “Climate ambition” will be the focus as United States (US) Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry visits India between 5 and 8 April as part of his ongoing three-nation tour to discuss climate change.

The 1-9 April tour will also see the former US Secretary of State visit the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bangladesh. In those countries and in India, where he is likely to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar, Kerry is scheduled to hold “consultations on increasing climate ambition”. 

He will also discuss US President Joe Biden’s upcoming Leaders Summit, a 40-nation meeting on climate scheduled to be held between 22 and 23 April, and the 26th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP26), slated for 1-12 November in Glasgow.

Kerry’s visit will be the second official engagement between the US and India since Biden assumed office in January, after Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s visit last month.

It comes as the US rejoins the fight against climate change, under the framework of the 2015 Paris Agreement, four years after former President Donald Trump — a vocal global warming sceptic — decided to withdraw the nation from the battle. 

The Paris Agreement is a legally-binding framework signed by 196 parties that seeks to “limit global warming to well below 2, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels”. The aim is to “reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible to achieve a climate neutral world by mid-century”.

This is expected to help avoid some of the worst impacts of climate change.

The US is the world’s second-largest carbon emitter after China. India is third. Rejoining the Paris Agreement was among the first policy decisions of the Biden administration. Kerry’s visit serves as an indication of the Biden administration’s commitment to prioritising climate change policy.

Also Read: Why climate czar John Kerry could complicate US foreign policy

Why the talks are important

Biden’s Leaders Summit, which will bring together 40 world leaders, including PM Narendra Modi, seeks to “galvanise efforts by the major economies to tackle the climate crisis”. “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,” the White House said in a statement last month.

The US is expected to announce new, ambitious 2030 emissions targets under the Paris Agreement, and will encourage “leaders to use the summit as an opportunity to outline how their countries also will contribute to stronger climate ambition”.

Kerry has been calling for 20 countries that account for 81 per cent of global emissions — including India — to take the lead in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The aim is to achieve net-zero emissions — off-setting emissions from sectors where greenhouse gases can’t be done away with — by or before 2050 in the pursuit of the Paris Agreement goals. India is reportedly considering joining over a hundred other countries in pledging to net-zero emissions by 2050.  

However, the pressure on India to make the same level of pledges as developed countries remains a matter of debate. India accounts for 6.8 per cent of the total global CO2 emissions burden, but its per capita emissions stand at 1.8 metric tonnes compared to the US’ and Australia’s 15.5 metric tonnes

The developed economies have historically made a higher contribution to warming, and even the Paris Agreement talks about “common but differentiated responsibilities”.  

The Modi government weighed in on these concerns in the Rajya Sabha last month. “India has repeatedly noted in climate negotiations that the developed countries have historically consumed far more than their fair share of the global carbon budget. India continues to uphold the need for equitable access to carbon space as among the key principles guiding implementation of the Paris Agreement, as well as the achievement of the larger goal of sustainable development in keeping with the needs and aspirations of its people,” Javadekar said

India’s Paris Agreement targets and COP26

Under the Paris Agreement, all signatory countries have Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) targets that outline the steps they plan to take by 2030 to tackle climate change. 

India has pledged to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions intensity of its GDP by 33 to 35 per cent below 2005 levels. It also aims to generate 40 per cent of India’s power through renewable energy, and create a carbon sink capable of sucking in 2.5 billion-3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide through additional forest and tree cover . 

The COP26, which will be co-hosted by the UK and Italy, is significant because countries will report on the progress with respect to their targets, and are expected to commit to further reductions in emissions.

Edited by Sunanda Ranjan

Also Read: International coalition set up to help India achieve renewable energy goals, says US


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