US climate czar John Kerry broadens search for allies before Leaders Summit on climate

U.S. special presidential envoy for climate John Kerry will meet with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and other officials in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on Friday April 9, marking the final stop on a week-long tour of Gulf and South Asian capitals to increase global climate ambition leading up to President Biden’s virtual “Leaders Summit on Climate” April 22-23, and the 26 Conference of the Parties (COP26) in November.

In Dhaka, Kerry is expected to “hand over the invitation to Prime Minister Hasina in person to attend the ‘Leaders Summit on Climate,’” the Dhaka Tribune reported last week. Expected to be discussed are investments Bangladesh has made in climate resiliency as well as how the international community can support these efforts.

Last week, the State Department announced Kerry’s travel to Abu Dhabi, New Delhi, and Dhaka, the capitals of the United Arab Emirates, India, and Bangladesh, respectively, “for consultations on increasing climate ambition” before the U.S.’ convening of 40 countries “that are demonstrating strong climate leadership, are especially vulnerable to climate impacts, or are charting innovative pathways to a net-zero economy,” the White House said in a March statement.

Although the overarching goal remains keeping warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius, countries have increasingly recognized the need to investment in climate adaptation and transition to low-carbon economies.

In Abu Dhabi, the U.S. and UAE agreed to cooperate on efforts to increase climate ambition and implement the Paris Agreement in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) regions, specifically through “new investments in financing decarbonization” and to “help the most vulnerable countries adapt” to climate change, their joint statement read.

Though oil exports account for 30 percent of its GDP according to its embassy in Washington, the UAE has some of the world’s lowest solar power costs and has made significant investments in carbon capture technology, among other initiatives aimed at economic diversification. Abu Dhabi is also home to “the world’s largest single-site solar facility,” the statement noted.

On April 4, Kerry with counterparts in the UAE and MENA region, discussed the need for investments in renewable energy and “low-carbon solutions” both for climate mitigation and adaption purposes and to “support sustainable economic growth and job creation,” their joint statement read.

“We believe [the conversations we held] will usher in a new era of regional cooperation for a prosperous and sustainable future based on ambitious climate policy, investment, and innovation.” Though the U.S. and UAE praised Saudi Arabia’s “Green Middle East initiative,” no Saudi representative participated in the meetings that day, according to the statement.

As the UAE positions itself as a regional leader on climate change and low-carbon transition, India’s climate ambition – and cooperation – is essential to global mitigation efforts: it will soon become the world’s most populous country and has enormous energy needs; it already has the third largest emissions behind China and the U.S. and is the world’s third largest energy consumer.  

In New Delhi, Kerry heaped praise on India’s climate leadership saying, “I am particularly grateful that India is getting the job done on climate…you are indisputably a world leader already in the deployment of renewable energy”. He added that India’s “leadership in the International Solar Alliance promises to advance clean energy across India and other dynamic growing economies around the world.”

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi with then-French President François Hollande had launched the “coalition of solar-resource-rich countries” of some 120 members at COP21 in Paris in 2015.

In one meeting with Indian officials, Kerry and Prakash Javadekar, Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, discussed “climate finance, joint research, and collaboration,” reported WION in New Delhi.

At a culminating meeting with Prime Minister Modi on Wednesday, India did not announce a carbon neutrality goal as other major economies have done, though Modi stated India was on track to meet its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC). Kerry said the U.S. was committed to “facilitating affordable access to green technologies and requisite finance” in support of “India’s climate plans,” reported ANI.

“Bangladesh did not create the problem [climate change] and the responsible countries should share responsibility of rehabilitating and protecting people from river erosions,” the Dhaka Tribune reported Foreign Minister AK Abdul Mome as saying. Mome said climate support to Bangladesh should be ‘Kerry’s special target’.

In a previous meeting with the Foreign Minister, Kerry had reportedly “recognized the extraordinary challenges faced by Bangladesh due to climate change and frequent natural disasters.”

Notably, Bangladesh has had, in recent years, one of the world’s fastest growing economies and is home to the world’s 8th largest population behind Nigeria.

Prime Minister Hasina has chaired the 48-nation Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF) and Bangladesh has led the Vulnerable Twenty (V20) Group of Ministers of Finance, both which have urged greater climate action “to enhance recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and future resilience,” and most recently urged “all [UN] Member States to redouble their efforts” to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement and UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Kerry’s meetings this week follow in-person meetings with heads of government and officials of key European allies with whom the U.S. expects to lead efforts to increase global climate ambition: France hosted COP21; the UK will host COP26, considered its follow-on agreement. Kerry had also recommitted the U.S. to its “strong alliance” with the EU on climate.

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