How the Quad can help climate action

The Indian Express

Arun M Kumar writes: The most commendable commitment is their focus on increasing the Indo-Pacific region’s resilience by improving critical climate information-sharing and disaster-resilient infrastructure.

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After 20 months of living through a pandemic, with the ever-present threat of new variants, the world is navigating the path forward with caution. With increasing vaccination coverage, many economies and businesses are getting back on track and gaining momentum.

In the context of continuing uncertainty, new roles are emerging for multilateral groupings of countries. The Quad, which was born in response to a natural calamity, the tsunami of 2004, is once again moving to harness its energies to address another crisis — the pandemic. The countries of the Quad are unified in saving the planet from environmental degradation. Alongside economic development, progress must be sustainable, given the climate crisis the world faces today.

The first-ever in-person leaders’ summit of the Quad was held last year when US President Joe Biden hosted Narendra Modi, Scott Morrison, and Yoshihide Suga at the White House. At the historic meeting, the leaders formulated ambitious goals to strengthen partnership and improve collaboration on new-age challenges such as ending the pandemic; promoting advanced infrastructure; fighting the climate crisis and partnering on emerging technologies.

The two areas where the Quad nations can make a consequential impact are energy and climate action.

In a scenario where rising population will lead to an increase in energy demand, countries cannot afford to depend on fossil fuels for power generation. These deplete natural resources, have high input costs and produce often uncontrollable emissions. At a time when the world is suffering from major catastrophes such as floods due to unseasonal rainfall, forest fires and the hampering of biodiversity, the alternative of renewable energy is imperative. The Quad can drive inclusive energy transition in technology, manufacturing, and finance.

With regards to technology, Quad nations such as Australia, Japan, and the US can provide much-needed technology expertise required to achieve the energy transition goals set under frameworks such as the International Solar Alliance (ISA) and OSOWOG (One Sun One World One Grid). The US recently became the 101st member of ISA, a re-emphasis of its commitment to lead broadly in the global fight against climate change.

India is well-placed to provide manufacturing infrastructure to build these technologies. To take over from China as the “world’s factory”, it will have to mirror its advantages of large-scale production at low costs. Doing this successfully will also help create much-needed employment in the country.

Like many major long-term initiatives, energy transition needs adequate funding. The developed nations of the Quad have a role and an opportunity to drive capital investments towards helping developing nations to move towards sustainable forms of energy. For instance, “climate finance” is required to facilitate global interconnected grids.

The climate crisis calls for urgency in action. With a focus on adaptation, resilience, and preparedness, Quad nations are already driving their efforts toward climate ambition, including working on the 2030 targets for national emissions and renewable energy, clean-energy innovation, and deployment. The most commendable commitment is their focus on increasing the Indo-Pacific region’s resilience to climate change by improving critical climate information-sharing and disaster-resilient infrastructure.

Plans such as building a new technical facility through the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure to provide technical assistance in small island developing states and setting up a Climate and Information Services Task Force are good steps. But these will require constant monitoring and periodic review to ensure that a real difference is made on the ground.

Japan is slated to host the second in-person meeting of the Quad group next year, where the focus will be on vaccine diplomacy, supply chain security and infrastructure development in the Indo-Pacific region. While these are pressing issues, the summit must not overlook or forgo a follow up on energy and climate action tasks.

The massive investment planned from now till 2050 to reach the 1.5°C pathway illustrates the scale of what needs to be done. Nations have already shown a great deal of commitment in the Quad vaccine partnership to help enhance equitable access to safe and effective vaccines in the region and the world. A similar form of commitment needs to be replicated in energy and climate action.

Through concerted efforts and tangible strategies, the Quad nations are strategically placed to make an impact not only on their own problems, but also those of the entire planet. The time has come for them to lead the path to a truly sustainable future.

This column first appeared in the print edition on January 22, 2022 under the title ‘Climate and the Quad’. The writer is chairman and CEO, KPMG India