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Transcript of Special Briefing by Foreign Secretary on Prime Minister’s visit to UAE (November 30, 2023)

November 30, 2023

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: A very good afternoon to all of you. Thank you for joining us today for this Special Media Briefing on the eve of Prime Minister's visit to the United Arab Emirates for the COP28. To give a sense of the visit and what's in store we have the privilege of having with us Foreign Secretary Sir, Shri Vinay Kwatra; also joining us on the dais, Shri Aseem Mahajan, Joint Secretary looking after Gulf Division in the Ministry. Sir, may I hand over the floor to you.

Shri Vinay Kwatra, Foreign Secretary: Thank you very much and good morning everyone. As you all know, Honorable Prime Minister will be traveling to Dubai later this evening to attend the World Climate Action Summit, which is the high-level segment of the 28th Conference of Parties, COP28; to the UNFCCC, that is, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Departing later this evening, he will be attending the Summit events tomorrow, 1st of December, before returning to India later tomorrow evening. Just to recall, Honorable Prime Minister had last visited the UAE earlier in July this year.

In terms of Prime Minister’s participation at the COP28, Honorable Prime Minister will deliver his address at the Opening Session of the World Climate Action Summit. Besides his address to the COP28, Prime Minister will also be participating in three high-level side events, of which two are being co-hosted by India. The first high-level event, which is being co-hosted by India and the UAE, is the launch of Green Credits Initiative. If you would recall, this was something which was rolled out earlier this month, or late last month by the Ministry of Environment in India. The Green Credits Initiative is based on the Green Credit Program, which was notified by the Ministry of Environment in October this year, and basically envisions the issue of Green Credits for plantations on waste and degraded lands and the river catchment areas in order to restore their vitality.

The second side event, co-hosted by India and Sweden, is the launch of LeadIT 2.0, essentially a Leadership Group for Industry Transition. This, you would recall, was a joint initiative launched by India and Sweden in 2019 at the UN Climate Action Summit in New York. Essentially, this initiative fosters collaboration among the decision-makers, bringing together both the public sector and the private sector with the objective of accelerating the industry transition to net-zero emissions, essentially from heavy industries. Honorable Prime Minister will also be participating in another high-level event, which is titled Transforming Climate Finance, which is to be hosted by the Presidency of the COP28, that is the UAE.

In terms of substance, as you all know, the Conference of the Parties, COP, is the supreme decision-making body of the UNFCCC that meets annually to assess progress in dealing with climate change, also discuss and negotiate further actions that the parties to the COP have to take, and make decisions on Global Climate Action.

Previously, Prime Minister has attended two climate conferences, COP21 in Paris in November 2015, where the historic Paris Agreement was concluded, and you would recall that International Solar Alliance was launched at that COP; and then COP26 in Glasgow where Prime Minister made the announcement of ‘Panchamrit’, outlining the five key elements of India's action aimed at environment conservation and climate protection. Converting these announcements into action, India submitted its enhanced NDCs, Nationally Determined Contributions, before COP27, and also submitted a long-term development strategy to pursue our goal of net-zero emissions by 2070. India is among the few large economies which are on track to meet its Nationally Determined Contributions. Also noteworthy that in recent years, under the vision and personal guidance of Honorable Prime Minister, India has taken a leadership role in shaping the global agenda on climate and environment, including through focusing on this issue in the two Voice of Global South Summits organized by India, first in January this year, and most recently, the one earlier this month.

India's approach to climate action is deeply rooted in our civilizational ethos and is reflected foremost in our contributions and our ambitious and effective national policies, especially those which are aimed at economic development, energy, health and nutrition. We have also been pioneering and in the forefront in taking global initiatives in fighting climate change and its impacts. These initiatives include, as I just said, launch of International Solar Alliance in COP in 2015, and the Alliance has now grown to be a truly international framework. Coalition for Disaster-Resilient Infrastructure is another such global initiative; Infrastructure for Resilient Island States and Mission LiFE, and most recently in September this year on the sidelines of the G20 Summit, the launch of the Global Biofuel Alliance.

Our approach to climate action is also reflected in our principled positions in the international negotiations and our global efforts to help the rest of Global South in combating this serious challenge of climate change, as also its impact on the development framework of the developing countries. We have engaged, as you all know, very actively in the multilateral negotiations under the UNFCCC, and our approach has been to preserve an effective, cooperative and equitable geo-global architecture based on climate justice and the principles of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, CBDR-RC.

Most recently, India has been, as I said, been able to mainstream this discourse during the G20 Presidency. Several of the decisions in the New Delhi Declaration reflect the discourse initiated, led by India, and various factors of our initiatives reflected in its decision, but also through the two Voice of Global South Summits. We have seen Green Development Pact, which was mentioned in the New Delhi Declaration, but also another accomplishment of the launch of Global Biofuel Alliance, which I just mentioned.

This visit and the participation of Honorable Prime Minister at the COP28 would also give us another opportunity to further advance Prime Minister's vision and attempt to forge global consensus on this very important issue of climate change.

I would stop here and if there are questions, we'll try and answer them. Thank you.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Thank you, Sir. We'll open the floor for questions. Please introduce yourself and the organization that you represent.

Rishabh: Good morning, Foreign Secretary. This is Rishabh from Times Now. Sir, apart from this Summit event, are we looking at any bilateral from our side with the leaders who are visiting for COP28 tomorrow in Dubai?

Sidhant: Sir, Sidhant from WION. Sir India has been pointing out that how the West has failed in its commitment regarding climate finance, how much that will be focused during the Prime Minister's engagement and addresses at these events?

Krishnan: Hi Sir, its Krishnan this side from Reuters. I have a two-pronged question, Sir. What is India's position on the recommendations made by Transitional Committee 5 on the Loss and Damage fund? Will India support its adoption today? And second, France and US are likely to propose a halt in private finance of coal, coal-fired power projects actually. India, on the other hand, needs coal power and is rushing to have more plants to meet unprecedented demand. What will be India's stand on coal exit in COP28?

Dhairya Maheshwari: Sir, Dhairya Maheshwari, Sputnik India. My question is on… there was a recent UN report which called for intensifying the GHG emission cuts. So does India support the developed countries advancing their GHG emission timelines, you know, which are 2050 at present? Thank you, Sir.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Okay, we'll take this round of questions. Before handing over the floor to Sir, some of these are prejudging not just the visit but the discussions in COP, particularly, Krishnan, to your comments or even the other ones. There's a process, people are going there for two weeks to negotiate various important documents, but I will let Foreign Secretary...Sir.

Shri Vinay Kwatra, Foreign Secretary: Thank you very much. On the question of bilaterals, yes, Honorable Prime Minister will have a set of bilateral meetings with many of his counterparts. We will keep you briefed about those meetings and the discussions that take place during those meetings as they progress.

With regard to the focus on climate finance, and some of it is perhaps in a way linked partly, not necessarily entirely, to the question on the Loss and Damage fund which was asked by Reuters. Look, one of the key objectives for us, and we all know this, this has always been our clear perspective and priority, that climate finance and also climate technology is a very, very crucial segment of all the global efforts in addressing this challenge of environmental degradation. We expect a clear roadmap to be agreed at COP28 on climate finance, which would be important for delivering on the New Collective Quantified Goals, which is NCQG at COP29.

I have already mentioned in my opening remarks that Honorable Prime Minister is also scheduled to participate in a high-level presidency event which is focused exclusively on climate finance. The outcome of that event is under discussion by the principal participants at that event, and it would be useful for those interested on this entire ecosystem of climate action issues, in particular climate finance, I would say even climate technology, to perhaps follow that event closely. In a way, the loss and damage part, we have always been interested in finding a successful outcome on operationalizing the Loss and Damage fund. This has always been very upfront in terms of our articulation. We think this will be of great benefit to the developing countries by providing them with potentially a new source of financial support to address the loss and damage aspect related to this.

With regard to the question on coal and how it is positioned...look, if you look at not just the articulation of India's position, India's belief and India's action related to climate change, and I would particularly draw your attention to the Panchamrit- five principles that the Honorable Prime Minister announced at the COP26, and I'll just sort of put this up front here in order to draw a proper correlation to how is coal looked at. One was to reduce the emission intensity of India's GDP by 45% by 2030 from 2005 level. Two, to achieve 50% cumulative electric power installed capacity from non-fossil fuel-based energy resources by 2030. Three, to achieve 1 billion ton reductions in the projected emissions between then, when it was announced, and 2030; and to achieve 500 gigawatts of non-fossil fuel energy capacity by 2030, and of course, what I said earlier, achieve net-zero by the year 2070. If you were to analyze each of these actions which the Prime Minister had outlined at COP26, you will clearly see India's commitment to look at, focus at, take targeted action towards green energy. Having said that, coal is and would remain an important part of India's energy mix, it has always been, as we move forward to meet our developmental priorities in the country.

With regard to the greenhouse emission timelines, I have already clearly mentioned to you what our enunciated goals and priorities are. I would essentially mention one more point here which is important to keep in mind, which is related to how the question of emission timelines gets linked to the Nationally Determined Contributions. As I said, we are among the very few major economies that is well on its track to complete its obligated NDCs. In fact, I am sure if you follow this closely, you would know we had announced upgraded NDCs last year, and I am very happy to say that we are now well on our way even to meet those upgraded NDC targets which we had announced last year. So we are among the few major few economies which is well on its way to meet NDCs. We are proactive in taking practical climate action measures and basing them on a very firm conceptual understanding and a very firm belief that our development has to be green development, while at the same time it also should triangulate well with your own development priorities in the country.

Sridhar: Good morning Sir, Sridhar from the Asian Age. Sir, I was just wondering, you outlined the big-ticket announcements that were made by the PM at COP26 at Glasgow, and you said some upgraded NDCs were also announced last year. Any fresh set of such nationally determined goals, are they likely to figure in the PM's opening remarks? And secondly, we saw during the Ukraine-Russia crisis, the pressure on the fossil fuels, the pricing, and everyone was scrambling for these fossil fuel resources. So has that put somewhat a spammer in the works of the ultimate climate goals for the globe? Thanks.

Srinjoy: Sir, first of all, climate financing, developed countries had promised $10 billion. How much of that has actually come? Secondly, Sir, yesterday John Kerry spoke about the importance of curbing methane emissions apart from CO2 because methane has very high… is more dangerous in the short run. Now, apart from the petroleum industry, the one reason why methane emissions are as high as they are is rice cultivation. Now, how does India handle that?

Suhasini Haidar: This is Suhasini Haidar from the Hindu. Foreign Secretary if you will permit me, since this will be the first visit the Prime Minister will take abroad after this indictment has come out in the United States. I would like to ask, will the high-level enquiry announced by the Ministry of External Affairs yesterday now include allegations from Canada about Indian involvement in a plot to kill a Canadian national, a Khalistani separatist? The Canadian Prime Minister has gone on the record. He has said, after this indictment, India should look at the allegations made more seriously. Thank you.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson:
What's your original question? What is the first part of it, that, will it be raised?

Suhasini Haidar: My question was, this will be the first visit abroad the Prime Minister will be taking, since the indictment came out, this is what the Canadian Prime Minister has said.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: And?

Suhasini Haidar: I would like a response on that.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Oh, you want a response on it. Okay, fair enough.

Suhasini Haidar: Also especially will that high-level enquiry that was announced, now include the Canadian allegations because the indictment very specifically mentions that?

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Okay. Before that, I thought, Srinjoy on your question, you said 10 billion? I am not aware of the 10 billion number. It was supposed to be 100 billion a year. And then in the last G20 deliberations, in fact, if I remember in the New Delhi Leaders' Summit, there was an acknowledgement that we need to move from billions to trillions and that I think is part of what the success of the G20 has been. I will come back to answer, I just thought I will clarify on the question part.

Sudhi Ranjan: Sudhi Ranjan from Bloomberg. Sir if you could give us an understanding, there is an enquiry that the MEA also talked about in the statement, who is conducting that enquiry? If you can give us a broad understanding which are the agencies. And also Sir given the US's indictment, is India any clearer to understand who at all, if any, was the Indian government official involved?

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson:
This is a briefing on the Prime Minister's visit to UAE for COP, but I will just do that. Anybody else has a question on this one, on this issue, which has been asked by Suhasini and Sudhi?

Abhishek Jha: Sir Abhishek Jha from CNN News18. And since you are taking questions, maybe one round on this issue, has India....

Shri Vinay Kwatra, Foreign Secretary: Please don't make your assumptions a fact.

Abhishek Jha: Has India requested for extradition of Pannun, SFJ leader in USA?

Shailesh Kumar: My name is Shailesh Kumar. I am from National Defence. Do you see an international conspiracy to malign India or for a regime change or desiring a regime change...

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Sorry, regime change?

Shailesh Kumar: Yes. As we see that the Canadian allegations...

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: I don't think you are meaning seriously all that. International conspiracy, I got your question.

Shailesh Kumar: If you take my question full, I can read that out. At least two of the accused in US indictment alleging Indian involvement are sources or have previous links with US agencies. While we see India's most wanted terrorist, Gurpatwant Singh Pannun is harbored at the same building area, 529 14th Street, NW, Washington, where National Press Club is located. This is the same building. Some time back, we see a prominent Indian leader was invited there at the same building. In the light of serious allegations of assassination…

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: I think we have to keep the question tight. Your question was specific to, you said international conspiracy. I got your question.

Manish Jha: Sir main Manish Jha hoon TV9. Kyuki US ki taraf se ye bataya gaya ki jo ek indian citizen hain Nikhil Gupta usko arrest kar liya gaya hai, aur isi case mai ek Indian officer ka bhi naam hain, toh kya US government ne Indian government se is maamle mein contact kiya hain, Indian officer ko lekar is case mein?

[Question in Hindi: Approximate Translation] Sir, I am Manish Jha from TV9. It has been informed from the US side that Nikhil Gupta, an Indian citizen, has been arrested. And in the same case, the name of an Indian officer is also involved. Has the US government contacted the Indian government regarding the Indian officer in this case?

Krishnan: Hi Sir, its Krishnan again from Reuters. My question is, the MEA yesterday announced that they had created this enquiry committee on 18th of November. But the US officials have been coming here for a few months before that, trying to raise this concern. What had been done before this committee was established, if any steps at all were taken from India's side?

Krishna Pokharel: Sir, I am Krishna Pokharel from the Wall Street Journal and the indictment until yesterday also showed that the US was intercepting communications to the Indian official mentioned in the indictment. And Canada has also said in its allegation that such interceptions were taking place. So any comments on the surveillance that was happening?

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Sir, there was this question also on climate finance in the beginning, as I mentioned. Let me start with that one.

Before I give the floor to Sir, I also wanted to make a comment on these other questions, which are not part of our usual briefing. On the climate finance part, I think there is some misunderstanding. It is not that money is coming to India. So we are not the right people to answer how much money has come to us. We should ask...there is mechanism within the UN framework. And I think the COP is a good opportunity to stock take. In fact, the global stock taking is part of COP28. And we are also looking forward to this high-level meeting on climate finance. And I think precisely these are the issues that will be asked. We have, of course, talked about the need for additional financing. So I do not think that is a question for answering at this point. On methane, I will leave that for Sir to answer.

But before I go on that...look, I think that this is...usually we do not take any questions which are not related to the visit. However, this is a pressing question, as I can see from a lot of queries. So let me make clear what our position has been on that, and before I hand over the floor to Sir on the visit. Look, as you would have seen, as we have informed earlier, during the course of discussions with the US on bilateral security cooperation, the US side shared some inputs pertaining to nexus between organized criminals, gun runners, terrorists, other extremists. We take, of course, such inputs very seriously, and a high-level enquiry committee has been constituted to look into all the relevant aspects of the matter. And necessary follow-up action will be taken based on the findings of the enquiry committee. You would have seen this in our statements that we have issued. We cannot share any further information on such security matters.

As regards the case against an individual that has been filed in a US court, allegedly linking him to an Indian official, this is a matter of concern. We have said, and let me reiterate, that this is also contrary to government policy. The nexus between organized crime, trafficking, gun running, and extremists at an international level is a serious issue for law enforcement agencies and organizations to consider, and it is precisely for that reason that a high-level enquiry committee has been constituted, and we will obviously be guided by its results. I have seen a series of questions that you have asked on this issue. I do not think there is anything additional that I would like to say on that.

There is also a query on Canada. On the issue of Canada, insofar as Canada is concerned, we have said that they have consistently given space to anti-India extremists and violence, and that is actually the heart of the issue. Our diplomatic representatives in Canada have borne the brunt of this, so we expect the Government of Canada to live up to its obligations under the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations. We have also seen interference by Canadian diplomats in our internal affairs. We have said this from this podium, and that is obviously unacceptable. So I think that covers… Sir has correctly said about Canada. I will now hand over to Sir.

Shri Vinay Kwatra, Foreign Secretary: See question on whether Honorable Prime Minister will be making any fresh announcements, whether with regard to the NDCs or other initiatives, I think it would not be correct really for us to prejudge in any way what the substance of Honorable Prime Minister's interventions, his thought processes at different events would be. But as I said earlier, this is only the third COP that the Honorable Prime Minister is attending. We attach tremendous significance and importance to the outcomes that are scheduled to come from this COP. I listed out some of the key elements of what would be under focus at this COP, and that included a substantial segment of climate finance. As I said, the specific figures is one part, but the point of principle and translating that principles into availability of climate finance, but also climate technology so that the developing countries can actually move forward, move aggressively forward to take climate action is important. So I think it would not be correct for us to really...but as and when it comes out, you will see what Honorable Prime Minister has to say on these various subjects.

With regard to your reference to pricing of the fossil fuel as a derivative of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, which you mentioned. I think it's a larger issue of essentially the energy transition into, a green energy transition, and I think COP28 would essentially be focusing on various elements of that. So when I talked about we participating in LeadIT 2.0, essentially it is an initiative which brings together the governments and the private sector to see how the heavy industries, which may be causing additional pollution, could then be addressed in a manner that the products of those industries are more green in that sense. So obviously that part would focus on shifting to a form of energy which is greener than the usual. Even in case of fossil fuel, although I'm not an expert, but it is an understanding that fossil fuel production also can undergo a certain process of greening in terms of the process steps that are used for the production of a particular fossil fuel.

So the challenge of climate change is intrinsically linked to such actions, and these actions, as I said, are referred to through our own NDCs. As I said, we have submitted our upgraded NDCs last year, which we are well on course to assume that. I don't think I would like to get into the specifics of, which specific gases get produced through which specific action. You mentioned one particular aspect of methane production under the rice cultivation. I think those are questions that are best left to the experts and the relevant departments to answer. But suffice it to say that irrespective of which domain that we talk about in terms of climate action, our effort is to focus on doing our development which is green while absolutely being mindful and acutely conscious of our own developmental priorities in this space.

The other questions relating to non-COP28 issues have already been answered.

Speaker: The November 18 committee that was formed, do you plan to make its findings public at any time?

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: I specifically said that is all we could say because of the security matter. We do not discuss such security matters publicly. I am sorry.

Suhasini: No, because you referred to drug runners and gun runners and extremists, but the indictment is about an Indian government official.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: No, the indictment is not about an Indian government official. I am sorry. Just check.

Suhasini: CC1, as it is named, is supposed to be in the service of the Indian government official.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Very clearly, let me reiterate what we said. As regards the case. Are you talking about the legal case?

Suhasini: I am talking about the legal case and the inputs that you say on the basis of which you are...

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: The inputs, I cannot share anything further. We made it very clear. As regards the legal case which you are basing, we have said that the individual, filed in the US court, it is allegedly linking that person with an Indian official. That is a matter of concern. We have said, and as I said, that is not government policy and there is high level enquiry and we have also talked about, as you mentioned, the nexus between organized crime, drug trafficking, gun running and extremists. That is something that needs to be investigated. I think this high level committee is precisely constituted for that, looking at all aspects. Let us wait for its results and we will take it forward. Thank you all for joining us for the special briefing. Please stay tuned as Prime Minister's visit unfolds.

Shri Vinay Kwatra, Foreign Secretary: Thank you very much.

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