When Donald Trump during his poll campaign, called climate change a “Chinese hoax” to gain economic advantage over US, few had taken his candidature seriously. However, just 4 days after the Paris Climate Agreement (the global treaty involving 195 countries to combat climate change) came into force; Trump was elected as the leader of the free world. Keeping his poll promise, on June 1, 2017 he announced his decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. In about half an hour address, he went on to cite numerous reasons for his decision. Calling the terms of agreement highly unfavorable to US and skewed in favor of India and China, he said that agreement if implemented in its present form will ‘undermine the US economy’ and lead to the ‘loss of coal jobs’. He went on to call the Green Climate Fund (GCF) established as a part of treaty, a wealth redistribution scheme from rich countries to poor. With his decision Trump has put the U.S. in league with Syria and Nicaragua, the only two other nations not a party to the agreement.
Trump’s objection to the treaty is mainly in two regards; economic disadvantages of moving from coal to renewable sources of energy and the comparative advantage that India and China have over U.S. Let’s take them one by one. While the President highlighted the loss to coal jobs, he wishfully chose not to mention the new ‘green jobs’ that the investment in the renewable energy will create. Besides, the solar energy prices had a free fall in last few months, owing to the innovations in the high-demand sector. India & China have already cancelled many of their plans for huge coal-power stations and replaced them with solar plants. PM Modi has already conveyed his ambition of India going above and beyond the Paris accord on combating climate change. Secondly, each country is allowed to set its own target under the accord under the ‘Intended Nationally Determined Contributions’. The targets for the US were decided by the US itself under the Obama regime. Neither are the terms legally binding. Moreover, US has the biggest share in CO2 emissions in the world with its per capita emissions 8 times that of India making it the second largest green house gases emitter after China.
President Trump must recognize that climate change is not a zero sum game. The common but differentiated responsibilities that the nations agreed upon in the accord are for their common good. The damage we have done to climate is the cumulative effect of 250 years of emission post Industrial revolution with the developed countries being the major polluter. Moreover, burning coal to provide for electricity to poor households in the developing countries cannot be equated to using it for running multiple ACs in Manhattan skyscrapers. It is disappointing that it was the same US under the leadership of President Obama that played a vital role in bringing all the nations together for the deal, has opted out of it. It has become an even difficult task now to achieve the target set at the treaty, i.e. to limit the temperature rise to 1.5 degC above re-industrial level.
What does it mean for India? In the strategic terms, India & China can occupy the space left by US and lead the world to limit climate change. It will help in enhancing their soft power. In the climate front, India is already experiencing the side-effects of global warming with erratic events like Uttarakhand floods of 2013 and recent Chennai floods. Increasing temperature will significantly affect the productivity of Rabi crops. Moreover, coastal Indian cities like Mumbai, Chennai will face the risk of even severe floods with rising sea levels. The monsoon has already become inequitable with parts of country facing droughts and floods at the same time. The govt. needs to plan effective mitigation strategies to face these situations. In the economic front, the picture seems much brighter with the avenue of attracting more FDI in renewable energy sectors and the ‘green jobs’. Recently, the Ministry of Power has also rolled out an ambitious plan to replace the sale of all fossil fuel run vehicles with Hybrid or Electric vehicles. Use of in-situ solar panels has provided electricity to many isolated villages. India has set an ambitious target of generating 175 GW through solar energy by 2025.
The task to restrict climate change may seem herculean at first with the biggest polluter out of treaty, but it must be seen as an opportunity rather than a challenge. By setting an example & providing leadership, everyone is hopeful that the better sense prevails, and President Trump reverts his decision. If not for the cause of climate change, at least on the basis of economic benefits the green energy provides in the long term. In the words of PM Modi, ‘Pro-active good governance aims beyond short-term requirement keeping in mind the long-term needs such as the use of clean technology and in preparedness and mitigating climate change”.
PS: Many Republican Party candidates who wrote to President Trump to withdraw from the treaty have received major share of their electoral funding from fossil fuel based companies.