Author : Aparna Roy

Expert Speak Terra Nova
Published on Sep 24, 2021
Climate Action and the Quad

Climate change is one of the most anticipated issues on the agenda of the upcoming first-ever in-person meeting of the Quad scheduled to be held on 24 September.<1> A White House media release indicated that amidst the global dangers confronting the planet’s future, including the crisis in Afghanistan and the COVID-19 pandemic—India, Australia, Japan, and the United States are expected to discuss ways by which they can deepen ties on another looming global danger – the climate crisis.<2>

With the global narrative on climate action fast gaining pace in the run-up to the Glasgow COP 26 Event in November 2021,<3> there is a need to streamline, strengthen and enhance climate actions globally. The Quad countries cover a critical regional arc encompassing the United States in the Pacific, India and Japan in South Asia and Southeast Asia, and Australia. All four countries are home to many important regions that are suffering the manifold impacts of cascading climate crises. For each of these countries, global warming poses multiple fronts for action and change. As an important grouping of states that are home to a quarter of the world’s population and roughly 35 percent of the world’s GDP,<4> the Quad can prove to be a torch-bearer for the global climate agenda.

The Quad countries cover a critical regional arc encompassing the United States in the Pacific, India and Japan in South Asia and Southeast Asia, and Australia.

To this effect, during the first Quad meeting held virtually in March this year, the nations declared the establishment of the Climate Working Group (CWG) to promote cooperation on climate mitigation, adaptation, resilience, technology, capacity building and climate finance to align domestic, regional and global actions for the implementation of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. While it is too early to assess the performance of the Quad CWG or the members of the CWG, it has been noted that the Quad’s commitments for climate change are mostly general statements that appear to recognise that the four powers have different stakes in this particular global agenda.<5>

To begin with, there are crucial issues within the Quad countries that need to be addressed in order to ensure joint climate action. For instance, while the US and Japan have pledged to achieving net-zero emission status by mid-21st century, India and Australia have chosen to not announce any concrete net-zero targets yet. As India is being acclaimed as one of the nations that are aggressively pursuing the climate agenda, Australia, Japan and the US have not displayed comparable effort. According to the Climate Change Performance Index released by Germanwatch, the New Climate Institute and the Climate Action Network in 2021, India was ranked 10th, while its Quad partners are many slots below: Japan at 45th and Australia at 54th, and the US ranking last in a list of 61 countries.<6>

Before deliberating the ways to address such issues and streamline climate action within and beyond the Quad region, it is worthwhile to note the historical context in which this forum was originally established.

The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad)<7> was born following the tsunami crisis in 2004, turning into a diplomatic dialogue in 2007, and revived in 2017, as a space to jointly cooperate for safeguarding the security and other interests of the Indo-Pacific region. On 12 March 2021, the first-ever leader-level summit of the Quad was convened virtually among the heads of the four states.<8> The leaders pledged to strengthen cooperation to address the defining current challenges facing their people and committed to a shared vision for an Indo-Pacific region that is free, open, resilient and inclusive, rooted in international law to advance security and prosperity, whilst countering threats to Indo-Pacific and beyond.<9> A joint statement<10> identified and outlined three urgent global challenges: the economic and health impacts of COVID-19, and vaccine development as a response; climate change; and future technologies. In pursuit of these challenges, working groups were formed.<11> Inching closer towards the end of 2021, the leaders are meeting in person for the first time on 24 September 2021, with a focus on deepening ties and advancing practical cooperation on the main areas identified above, including the climate crisis.<12>

In this context, as the Quad comes of age<13> and is being touted as an important pillar of stability, essential questions are being raised: What are the Quad’s tangible measures in helping regional countries to reduce emissions as part of their commitments under the Paris agreement? How does the Quad envisage addressing climate change outside the ambit of other existing international platforms?

Foremost, the Quad needs to acknowledge, in letter and in spirit, the essence of the principle declared in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change: that of “common but differentiated responsibilities”. With a stark carbon inequality between the developed and developing nations, making this principle a largely accepted norm is of utmost importance in charting a collective path for action. It would be unjust, for example, to demand that India—which emits less than 1.9 Mt CO2 emissions<14> per capita, or Japan—with 9.7 Mt<15> CO2 emissions per capita, to undertake the proportional costs associated with climate actions with nations like the US and its over 15.52 Mt CO2<16> emissions per capita or Australia, with 17.1 Mt CO2.<17> The Quad needs to reaffirm its collective belief in the principles of equity and inclusivity in the pursuit of climate goals.

Second, given the multifaceted manifestations of climate change in almost all development sectors, instead of looking at climate challenges in silos, the Climate Working Group must collaborate with other working groups such as the vaccines experts group or the critical and emerging technologies working group to implement climate action in a holistic manner. For instance, the cold chain plays an essential role in vaccine transportation and storage. It is important to explore ways of greening the cold chain infrastructure as it is estimated to contribute 3-3.5 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.<18> Such cross-sectoral partnerships will prove beneficial in mitigating the carbon emissions associated with the cold storage value-chain and the life-cycle of vaccines. Additionally, knowledge sharing, technology transfer and responsible trade practices in emerging technologies, particularly green technologies, is a critical linkage binding the Quad working groups in generating valuable outcomes.

Third, the Quad needs to reconfigure its global perception as a group that is focused on military cooperation in order to tackle the problem of climate change at a truly global scale. By adopting a similar approach as it has in dealing with the global community on issues such as the territorial disputes in South China Sea and maritime security, the Quad needs to portray its commitment towards dealing with global threats like climate change in a united way. Even China, widely considered as the motivation for the revival of the group, has announced its climate commitments towards achieving net-zero targets by 2060.<19> Thus, climate action can be a low-hanging fruit that will unite the fragile and scattered global actors against the common existential dangers of climate change.

First, the Quad needs to acknowledge, in letter and in spirit, the principle declared in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change: “common but differentiated responsibilities”.

Finally, the Quad should endeavour to translate the attributes of democracy to measurable action on the climate front. The group can serve as a model for institutionalising and delivering on a ‘just-transition framework’ while planning and undertaking measures for climate mitigation and adaptation. The Quad is best placed to conduct joint research, collaborate on sharing knowledge, and demonstrate its capacity to put people and justice at the core of its climate agenda. Various developments in this regard have been taken up domestically by the US and India: the US’s Just Transition Fund and India’s Just Transition Centre at iFOREST, for example, can serve as an apt entry point for institutionalising the just-transition approach across the Quad, the Indo-Pacific, and the world.

Hence the Quad, which encapsulates ‘stability’ as an attribute, can capitalise on the core essence of ‘democracy’ to further the vision and action related to the climate agenda. It is time that a truly comprehensive, inclusive and fair approach to regional cooperation is adopted in climate action.

This piece is part of ORF’s Special Report No. 161, The Rise and Rise of the ‘Quad’: Setting an Agenda for India | ORF (


<1> Press Secretary, The White House.

<2> Fact Sheet: Quad Summit, The White House.

<3> UK CoP 26, “26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26)”.

<4> Jyotsna Mehra, “The Australia-India-Japan-US Quadrilateral: Dissecting the China Factor,” ORF Occasional Paper No. 264, August 2020.

<5> Chee Leong Lee, “Three Questions for the Quad’s Indo-Pacific Security Commitments,The Diplomatist, April 22, 2021.

<6>Germanwatch, Climate Change Performance Index, Bonn, Germanwatch 2021.

<7>Explained: What is Quad and what it hopes to achieve”, Money Control, March 12, 2021.

<8>KallolBhattacharjee and SuhasiniHaider, “First Quad Summit | Quad leaders for ‘open, free’ Indo-Pacific”, The Hindu, March 12, 2021.

<9> Joe Biden et al., “Opinion: Our four nations are committed to a free, open, secure and prosperous Indo-Pacific region”, The Washington Post, March 13, 2021.

<10> Quad Leaders’ Joint Statement: “The Spirit of the Quad”, The White House.

<11> Fact Sheet: Quad Summit, The White House.

<12> Press Secretary, The White House.

<13>Quad force for global good: Prime Minister Narendra Modi”, Tribune News Service, March 12, 2021.

<14>Worldometer, “CO2 Emissions per Capita,” Worldometer.

<15>Worldometer, “CO2 Emissions per Capita,” Worldometer.

<16>Worldometer, “CO2 Emissions per Capita,” Worldometer.

<17>Worldometer, “CO2 Emissions per Capita,” Worldometer.

<18>Heard, Brent R., and Shelie A. Miller, "Potential Changes in Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Refrigerated Supply Chain Introduction in a Developing Food System.Environmental Science &Technology 53, no. 1 (2018): 251-260.

<19>How China plans to become carbon-neutral by 2060”, Bloomberg Live Mint, August 11, 2021.

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Aparna Roy

Aparna Roy

Aparna Roy is a Fellow and Lead Climate Change and Energy at the Centre for New Economic Diplomacy (CNED). Aparna's primary research focus is on ...

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