More than Words: Greater Climate Ambition Needed

Co-Authored with Madhura Joshi

In the five years since the Paris Agreement, the world has seen the climate crisis worsen with deadly heat waves, floods, wildfires, cyclones and more—as well as the COVID-19 pandemic. The “Climate Ambition Summit 2020” recognized the climate progress made and the sobering reality that much greater ambition is needed. Looking ahead, leaders need to step up in the sprint to the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) meeting in Glasgow next November—starting with reviving U.S.-India climate cooperation under the new Biden Administration.

During the virtual summit, several countries emphasized their pledges. The European Union took a big step, committing to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 55% from 1990 levels by 2030. New Zealand and 32 countries declared “climate emergencies.” Over 125 countries, including China, committed to carbon neutrality by mid-century. Together, these represent 51% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The percentage could increase to 63% once United States re-joins the Paris and potentially announces a carbon neutrality or net-zero target.

India reaffirmed its commitment to the Paris Agreement, but made no new pledges. Pointing out the need to recognize historic responsibility for climate emissions, Prime Minister Narendra Modi highlighted that India will meet and exceed its Paris targets, already reducing emissions intensity by 21% given its target to reduce emissions intensity of GDP by 33-35% by 2030. The Prime Minister also discussed that India is already the fourth largest renewable energy market and aims to achieve 450 GW by 2030 (watch remarks here).

Prime Minister Modi flagged the International Solar Alliance and the International Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure and looked ahead linking India’s 2047 centennial as a milestone for climate action. Industry leaders from India, Godrej and Boyce and Dalmia Cement, highlighted their actions in moving industry toward a sustainable future.

The five-year anniversary of the Paris Agreement makes clear that the world needs more than pledges. The overwhelming science is emphasizing the dire consequences of failing to raise ambition. Stronger on the ground action with raised ambition is needed in the fight to avert a full-blown climate catastrophe. A major opportunity to accelerate climate action in the sprint to Glasgow is through a revived U.S.-India engagement on climate change.

No other country presents a greater opportunity for climate cooperation for the Biden-Harris Administration than India. To accelerate climate cooperation with India, the Biden-Harris Administration should schedule a high-level US-India bilateral summit with climate change a central agenda issue in its first 100 days. Building on the earlier U.S.-India Joint Working groups and 2016 Joint Statement: The United States and India: Enduring Global Partners in the 21st Century, the countries should evaluate the programs to revive and create new programs.

Key priorities for climate cooperation are (as outlined earlier here):

  • Expanding clean energy programs, such as the prior Partnership to Advance Clean Energy, focused on energy efficiency and solar and wind energy, and potentially adding electric vehicles, battery storage and renewable grid-integration that align with India’s priorities.
  • Developing new areas for cooperation, such as climate resilience, climate-resilient infrastructure, sustainable finance, air quality, electric mobility, among others. 
  • Strengthening global partnerships, including greater ambition under the Paris Agreement, ratification of Montreal Protocol’s Kigali Amendment to phase down dangerous hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), advancement of the International Solar Alliance (ISA), expanded USAID cooperation on energy, accelerating Mission Innovation, among others.
  • Ramping up climate finance, investments and trade with India and emerging markets to support clean energy through the International Development Finance Corporation (IDFC), U.S. Export-Import bank and other platforms, such as the Green Climate Fund and catalytic financing solutions.  
  • Fostering subnational climate action at the state- and city-levels with meaningful funding create opportunities for cross-country learning, capacity building and implementation on the ground.

The raging COVID-19 crisis intersects with key issues such as economic growth, public health systems, employment, and climate change. Potential programs on green stimulus efforts, climate resilience, and disaster management could help amplify a green and resilient recovery.

At this critical time with the world facing multiple threats—COVID-19, economic despair, and the climate crisis—the world needs leadership, cooperation and ambition. Robust action on climate change is essential for advancing low-carbon economies, increasing energy security and preparing for the worst effects of climate change. Strong action can help put us on a path to a more sustainable future that expands economic growth, creates jobs and improves the lives of millions in the sprint to Glasgow and the decade ahead.

Madhura Joshi is a climate policy expert and consultant with NRDC’s India program based in New Delhi.

About the Authors

Anjali Jaiswal

Senior Director, India, International Program
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