Rejecting global cooperation
In a decision that will have serious repercussions on humanity's battle to save Mother Earth, United States President Donald Trump on Thursday announced that his country would withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. The US, which is the country responsible for the highest share of carbon emissions worldwide, will no longer remain a signatory to the agreement. In December 2015, 195 countries signed a deal which promises to keep the rise in global temperatures significantly below 2 degrees Celsius by the turn of the century. If the world gets warmer by more than 2 degrees Celsius by the end of this century, scientists working with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have warned of a rise in the number of "extreme climate events" that include higher sea levels, food and water crisis, changes in weather patterns and other effects detrimental to life on earth. As per the deal, countries had agreed to outline what post-2020 climate actions they intend to take under a new international agreement, known as their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). India's INDC's are significantly more ambitious than the US in terms of moving away from fossil fuels. By 2030, the US will have only 30 percent of non-fossil fuel in its energy mix whereas India has committed to 40 percent. The progress made by the countries who have signed the agreement will come under review every five years. Contrary to Trump's assertions of India making "its participation contingent on receiving billions and billions and billions of dollars in foreign aid from developed countries," New Delhi believes that fully developed countries must share technologies that help decrease carbon emissions. India is not sitting around with a begging bowl. As one of the top two polluters in the world (the other is China), it should be incumbent upon the US to play their part in aiding other nations. In fact, China has pledged to halt the growth in its carbon emissions by 2030, 13 years from now. Reports, however, indicate that it is on track to beat that target date by many years. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that irrespective of America's withdrawal, India will meets its climate objectives.
Considering the non-binding nature of the Paris agreement, one could pose the argument that America's decision to withdraw or renegotiate terms may not prove to be all that disastrous. INDCs are not legally binding, and all countries must take up commitments to mitigate the impact of climate change. Under the Paris Agreement, nation states are free to reduce emissions as much as they want and there are no repercussions for non-compliance. During deliberations on the Paris agreement, Like Minded Developing Countries, which include India and China, presented a united front on the principle of common but differentiated responsibility (CBDR). The CBDR principle has found its place in different parts of the agreement. The onerous burden of reducing greenhouse emissions will not be greater on developing nations than developed countries. The concept of climate justice, which Prime Minister Narendra Modi pushed for, had found a place in the agreement. In the face of an aggressive push by the US and other developed countries to tear down the CBDR principle entirely, developing nations stood firm and extracted some concessions. However, one of the biggest hits the CBDR principle took was the removal of the phrase "historical responsibility", which had weakened the obligations of developed countries to take stern actions against their past acts of emission. Without the burden of historical responsibility on their head, equity is interpreted only in terms of "respective capabilities and national circumstances" further breaking down the differentiation between the climate change actions of developed and developing countries. In fact, developed nations had gone to the extent of establishing that damage due to climate change "does not involve or provide a basis for liability or compensation".
In essence, the developed nations had anyway lowered the legally binding expectations from them and raised the hope of action by the developing world. Let's take the example of climate finance. According to the agreement, developed nations will be required to finance the developing countries bid to cut emissions and adapt to a new carbon-free energy paradigm. As for specifics, developed countries will be expected to provide upwards of $100 billion annually after 2020 to developing countries--something which the US will no longer honour. However, the pound of flesh extracted by the developed nation's bloc implies that the provision of finance to poorer countries will not be legally binding on them. "On the whole, the draft Paris agreement continues to be weak and unambitious, as it does not include any meaningful targets for developed countries to reduce their emissions. It notes that climate injustice is a concern of some and it maintains that the agreement will be under the UN convention. But as it does not operationalise equity and the term carbon budget did not even find mention in the text. This will end up furthering climate apartheid," wrote Sunita Narain, the Director General of the Centre for Science and Environment, in a 2015 column critiquing the deal. Nonetheless, what the Paris agreement did signify was the ideal of global cooperation, in which countries sat together and envisioned a world habitable for future generations. Withdrawal from the deal does signify a rejection of that spirit of global cooperation. As one of the largest polluters in the world, it is crucial for the US to be a part of any smoothly functioning international treaty.
One thing that the NDA government seems to have done right is its push towards renewables. Unlike the US, we have a government that acknowledges the threat of climate change. Yes, there is enormous scope for improvement, but the wheels are turning. The other main players like the European Union and China have also already taken significant strides in adopting renewable energy. As for the United States, businesses have already taken the lead. It isn't cheaper anymore for them to run on fossil fuels. Companies like Google, Facebook, WalMart and General Electric are already making that transition. Even Exxon Mobile, one of the leading figures in the fossil fuel industry, had also reportedly requested Trump not to ditch the Paris agreement. The train for renewable energy has already left the station and in the words of a recent column in The Wired, "the United States has just walked away from the bargaining table where the framework for the future will be created." Trump's assertion that backing out of the climate deal will create more jobs for American workers in the fossil fuel industry is tenuous at best. Besides the transition to renewable energy by important job-creators like GE, the spectre for automation that looms large. There is also already a strong resistance to such idiotic posturing among individual states like California and New York. However, there is a legitimate fear the Trump's decision could set an unwanted precedent in the fight against climate change. Nation-states around the globe will take this as a cue - unless like the EU or others in the global north they can afford not to - to pull back from their existing commitments, subtly or otherwise. Decisions will be made with less haste, or vigour, without knowing they've got the US pulling for the same cause. And they'll point to America as the prime example of refusing to uphold what are inherently good faith promises to the rest of humanity. America's withdrawal will make the fight against climate change a lot harder as some nation states may not have the capacity to follow through. As an aside, Trump's decision to withdraw from the climate deal and go on the offensive against India and China comes at a time when Prime Minister Narendra Modi is slated to visit the White House later this month.