Leaders of 4 big countries of the world meet for the first time and what do they discuss – Climate Change.
Yes, Yes, they did discuss Covid, critical and emerging technologies, indo-pacific, possibly China, but we will focus our discussion towards Climate Change.
Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or popularly know as QUAD is an informal strategic group of 4 countries the US, India, Australia, and Japan.
After 14 years of its formation, this is the first conclave in which the top leaders of the Quadrilateral alliance participated.
Ministers & representatives of the four countries have met sporadically, but a meeting between leaders was long overdue.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, US President Joe Biden, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga attended the virtual QUAD summit on 12th March 2021.
The QUAD leaders pledged their resolve to “combat climate change” and “strengthen the climate actions of all nations, including to keep a Paris-aligned temperature limit within reach”.
The four countries plan to establish a series of working groups that will focus on climate change including climate finance.
Though prima facie, nothing concrete was visible from the joint statement of the QUAD summit, making this as an agenda item was itself notable. The renewed focus on climate change from these 4 countries is a welcome step.
How are the QUAD members faring in terms of Climate Change commitments?
USA – The meeting is done within few weeks of Joe Biden becoming president and the USA rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement. After the last 4 years of the Trump administration, when not enough action was taken, the new government is expected to make a significant push on addressing climate change.
India – In February 2021, the Indian Prime Minister speaking on the occasion of the World Sustainable Development Summit has mentioned the need to think out of the box and work towards sustainable development. India had committed to reduce the emissions intensity of GDP by 33 to 35% from 2005 levels and a drop of 24% in the emission intensity has already been achieved.
In the last 4-5 years, India has put a lot of focus on renewable energy, especially solar energy. India has set an ambitious goal of 450 gigawatts of renewable energy capacity by 2030.
Japan – Last year, Japan was the first G7 industrialized nation to submit an updated climate action plan known as a “Nationally Determined Contribution”.
The island country which is extremely vulnerable to natural disasters like typhoons, storms, earthquakes, etc has committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2050. The country has also reaffirmed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 26% by 2030 from 2013 levels.
Australia – The country has committed to a target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28% below 2005 levels by 2030.
Having said that, both Japan and Australia’s efforts have been questioned by the UN and climate experts on not doing enough.
In a recently published Climate Change Performance Index 2020, apart from India which is in the top 10, Japan ranks 51, Australia 56, and the USA is last on the list i.e. 61.
Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI) is an independent monitoring tool for tracking countries’ climate protection performance.
CCPI publishes this index annually since 2005, the index looks across 4 categories – GHG emissions, renewable energy, energy use, and climate policy.
The objective is to enable comparison of climate protection efforts by individual countries.
This is the first time, India has ranked in the top ten in the Climate Change Performance Index, mainly because of renewable energy push.
Little more on QUAD
Regarded as the brainchild of former Japanese premier Shinzo Abe, QUAD set up as an informal platform in 2004 after Tsunami wreaked havoc in the region. The concept saw its first informal meeting in 2007, but over the years the concept never took off due to internal pressures in the 4 countries.
Since 2017, there was a renewed push to revive QUAD, and officials of the four countries regularly met, including 3 foreign minister-level meetings.
For Joe Biden, this was the first high-level engagement since he has assumed presidential office, and the meeting was initiated by the White House. This shows the significance the US has placed on this grouping.
The focus of QUAD is primarily on the Indo-pacific region. With China’s aggressive military posturing in the region, the meeting of the 4 countries had become a necessity. The large emphasis of this recent meeting was keeping the Indo-pacific region “free and secure”.
This has not gone unnoticed in China, Global Times, the country’s leading news publisher made a scathing attack on India’s presence in QUAD. Referring to BRICS and SCO (in which both India & China are members), Global Times mentioned, “India has become a negative asset of these groupings. It seems India has failed to understand China’s goodwill. India takes all support from China for granted. It is, in fact, carrying out a kind of strategic blackmail against China.”
While the official response about the QUAD summit from China’s foreign office mentions “exchanges and cooperation between countries should help enhance mutual understanding and trust among regional countries, and should not target or undermine the interests of any third party.”
While China may look at QUAD from its own lenses, but the grouping has the potential to shape geopolitical scenarios of the world and forge new strategic alliances. Over time, it might include other countries as well.
This was also the first QUAD summit that issued a joint statement, in all the other previous ministerial meetings each country used to issue separate statements with their own versions. Hence this summit becomes an important event, as this is the first time QUAD members spoke in one voice, and the mention of Climate Change is a welcome step.
The summit of these kinds is not necessarily to discuss the modalities, it is only to give a direction. Now it is up to the ministers and other experts of respective countries to come out with an implementation plan.
As a side note, one of the critical agenda items of the QUAD summit was on the vaccine initiative. The indo-pacific region would see U.S. COVID-19 vaccines being manufactured in India with U.S., Japan, and Australia providing financial and logistical support.
The way the world is working together on the COVID-19 vaccine, the planet would need similar commitments from all the countries on climate change.