Climate Change

Climate experts hail forthcoming US climate summit with caution and riders

The US should clean up its own act first as far as net zero is concerned, climate experts say  

By Jayanta Basu
Published: Wednesday 07 April 2021
US Special Presidential Envoy John Kerry greets Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on April 6. Photo: Twitter Handle of Finance Ministry

Eight tweets, issued by US Special Presidential Envoy John Kerry and three senior Indian ministers after their meetings April 6, 2021, are clear giveaways that India is not inclined to immediately announce any fresh target of emission cuts beyond the Paris Agreement target.  

John Kerry is currently touring South Asia. His visit’s apparent objective is to push countries, particularly India, to announce deeper emission cuts than already announced.

Kerry wants that to happen either during the ‘Leaders Summit on Climate’ on April 22 and 23 being organised by US president Joe Biden or during the 26th Conference of Parties (CoP26) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) scheduled to be organised in Glasgow later this year.

The summit has been touted as the ‘net zero summit’, with the US apparently pushing countries with high carbon emissions to set net zero emission targets.

Various climate experts and reports including from non-profit ActionAid have pointed out that the long-term ‘net zero’ target will not be of much use. They add that the US should takes care of its own emissions before trying to take a leadership role in global climate geopolitics.

Questions have also been raised by a few experts about the US inviting leaders of only 40 of the nearly 200 UNFCCC members at the summit.

Giveaway tweets

Kerry met Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, Foreign Minister S Jaishankar and Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar April 6. Though no formal, detailed announcement was made, all the involved parties tweeted.

One of the finance ministry tweets reads:

FM Smt. @nsitharaman informed @Johnkerry that India is among few countries on track towards Paris agreement goals and has taken decisive actions in fighting #climatechange

Others read:

FM Smt. @nsitharaman stressed on the need for assessment of the $ 100 billion commitment per year from developed countries to developing countries …(and ) underscored the need to enhance financial flows to developing countries beyond $100 bn to strengthen climate action

Prakash Javadekar tweeted:

had an engaging and fruitful discussion with Mr. @JohnKerry. Special Presedential Envoy for Climate… we discussed a range of issues including #ClimateFinance, joint research and collaboration etc.

S Jaishankar, foreign minister, just remarked: “discussed issues of global climate action”.

None of the comments had any reference to discussions regarding any deeper emission cuts. This, even as Sitharaman reminded that “India is among few countries on track towards Paris agreement goals”.

A senior Indian climate negotiator had told this journalist during CoP25 in Madrid that India was opposed to rescheduling the global stock take on climate emission actions and cuts in addition to revising the targets set up under the Paris Agreement. He recently confided that the position had not changed.

Kerry, on his part, mentioned in his tweet that “India is a vital partner in our flight against the climate crisis” but also reminded that “we must raise ambition together, or will fail together”.

‘Clean up your act first’

Climate experts expressed doubts about the new US administration’s climate initiative even as they praised it as an improvement from the US’ Trump Era stance.

Saleemul Huq, director of International Centre for Climate Change and Development and chair of the Expert Advisory Group for the Climate Vulnerable Forum said: 

Countries should certainly declare a timeline for reaching net zero (like 2050) but that is not enough … they must also declare shorter timelines for achieving that (for instance half by 2030).

Haque also reminded that “there is also a separate scientific debate about what net zero means”.

Harjeet Singh, ActionAid’s global climate lead, observed that “too many ‘net zero’ plans heavily rely on unproven technologies, which are unlikely to ever work at scale”.

He also reminded that “large scale tree-planting will be required over vast areas to push net zero that may drive land-grabbing and rising hunger in the Global South”.

“Instead of net zero, India must set ‘real zero’ climate targets,” Singh said. He pointed out that while India had the opportunity to be a leader in renewable energy, the energy needs of its poorest could not be overlooked. This is a position the Indian government officially pursues and it also got reflected in its official commitment in Paris in 2015. 

Experts also opined that “the most vulnerable countries need this year’s Glasgow climate summit to deliver on finance to support communities being devastated by the loss and damage caused by climate change”. They expressed hope that the US would walk the talk on finance.

“While the idea of pushing deeper emission cuts is praiseworthy, the US should clean up its own act fast,” Sanjay Vashist, director of Climate Action Network South Asia (CANSA), said.

He referred to a recently released CAN United States report. According to it, the US needs to cut emissions by 195 per cent (14 billion metric tonnes carbon dioxide and equivalent) from 2005 levels by 2030 — 70 per cent home and 125 per cent international — to reach its fair share for the world to limit temperature rise to 1.5 degree Celsius.

Incidentally, the formal US announcement of the Leaders Summit on Climate reads:

In recent years, scientists have underscored the need to limit planetary warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius in order to stave off the worst impacts of climate change. A key goal of both the Leaders Summit and CoP26 will be to catalyze efforts that keep that 1.5-degree goal within reach

An ActionAid report points out that “the term ‘net zero’ is used by the world’s biggest polluters and governments as a facade to evade responsibility and disguise their inaction or harmful action on climate change.”

It adds: “Net zero emission does not mean ‘zero emissions’ and should not be taken at face value.”

The report claims that removing large amounts of carbon dioxide pollution will bring “huge social and ecological harm and technological challenges”.

Selective invites

The US has invited the leaders of only 40 of the nearly 200 countries under the UNFCCC at the Leaders Summit. While all G20 countries have been invited, arguably for their role in the emission push, only some of the smaller and vulnerable countries have received invitations. For example, only Bangladesh and Bhutan have been invited from South Asia in addition to India.

While some feel that the smaller countries have been selected as their position of regional head of some groups or others; the critics point out that the summit is more about individual countries spelling their future climate policies and hence all should have been invited. 

“There are some major misses as far as the Biden climate conference is concerned. The Philippines and Pakistan regularly top the charts in terms of most climate-affected countries, but have not been invited. Their presence would’ve strengthened the voices of the most vulnerable,” Imran Saqib Khalid from Sustainable Development Policy Institute Pakistan told this journalist.

Khalid admitted that the “Biden administration has done well in terms of inviting the largest emitters, which account for over 80 per cent of the global carbon emissions.”  

“But can the United States, which has thus far been the greatest contributor to the climate crisis, provide the necessary leadership in this regard?” he asked.

“Coming after the Trump Era, Biden should have tried to take all on the board if he really wants the US to be a leader in climate geopolitics and push China,” another expert said.

“While I appreciate the US effort on net zero, it is not clear on which parameter some countries have been called and others haven’t,” Ranga Pallawala, national finance advisor for Belize, The Commonwealth Secretariat from Sri Lanka told this journalist.

Pallawala observed that Sri Lanka is close to finalising net zero targets on carbon emissions and the Leaders Summit would have been a good platform to showcase the target.

“We have all seen how the US-driven climate policy of taking a few countries into confidence and bulldozing the decision on others had fallen flat in Copenhagen about a decade back and just hope the US would keep that in mind, especially coming back to climate negotiation after a five-year hiatus,” an Indian climate expert said.

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.