Paris Agreement: As United States withdraws from global stage, India must step up and lead

While announcing the United States' withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, president Donald Trump said India wanted 'billions and billions and billions' of dollars in foreign aid in order to stay in the accord. But that is an alternative fact.

File image of Donald Trump. AP

File image of Donald Trump. AP

In reality, the Green Climate Fund (GCF) is a voluntary $10.3 billion fund, set up primarily to assist developing nations in their efforts to curb emissions and fight climate change. Technically, this means that the Trump administration will not transfer the $2 billion of the $3 billion it owes the GCF. The first billion was paid in two installments of $500 million by Barack Obama,  the second payment was made just three days before he left the White House.

But what is the Paris Agreement? For those not in the know, in 2015, 195 countries came together and signed a climate change pact. The countries voluntarily agreed to hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and also to make efforts to limit the temperature increase to one and a half degrees Celsius. For this, the key was reducing the dependence on fossil fuels and cutting the greenhouse gas emissions.

Climate change experts are apprehensive that the US decision to pull out of the Paris Agreement will lead to a deficit in the climate fund and lead to emission levels rising across the globe.

The Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) also criticised Trump's move, saying that without the active and ambitious contribution from the US, any action to combat climate change under the Paris Agreement would be hugely insufficient.

The US has, historically, been the world's largest polluter. It accounts for 17 percent of global emissions. Today, China occupies the top spot and the US has slipped to the second position. The European Union takes up the third position, followed by India, which accounts for around four percent of global emissions. After ratifying the Paris accord on 2 October, 2016, India decided that it would reduce its carbon footprint from 2005 levels by 33 to 35 percent by 2030.

With Trump pulling out of the Paris Agreement, the US is set to join Nicaragua and Syria as the only nations who are not party to the accord. For a country which has been occupying the position of global leader, both in terms of politics and business, the decision to withdraw from the Paris pact will create a major leadership void. German chancellor Angela Merkel, along with French president Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, issued a joint statement insisting the agreement could not be renegotiated and that they would continue to combat climate change.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned that if the world gets warmer by more than two degrees Celsius over the remainder of the century, there will be a rise in the number of “extreme climate events” on the planet, including acidification of the oceans, and changes in weather patterns, which could result in a major drop in agricultural production.

Professor Vikram Soni, a physicist working on the environment at Jawaharlal Nehru University, points out, "Increase in temperature is going to see the earth hotting up. Already, changes in humidity and temperature have led to India facing increasing extreme climate events in Uttarakhand and Kedarnath. Pakistan is also bearing witness to this phenomenon — in a surprising way — they now receive a new monsoon from the Arabian Sea, which has resulted in the Karakoram glacier getting bigger and bigger. Increasingly erratic weather patterns will adversely effect our agriculture. This is something we will have to combat on a war footing.’

Chandra Bhushan, co-director general, CSE, referring to the Paris Agreement, emphasised that US emissions are already three times that of India. "We will face a great deal of difficulty in controlling rising temperatures, so meeting the two degree target becomes all the more difficult."

Since carbon emissions are the biggest cause of climate change, the Paris accord states that countries should strive to reach peak emissions “as soon as possible”. Currently, experts predict this peak will be reached around 2030, after which there should be enough renewable resources to bring the levels down. However, the accord does not indicate what measures should be taken to reach peak emission levels sooner.

This means India must focus on greater investment in renewable energy sources, so that the economy can be weaned off fossil fuels. To do this, India will need to produce 175 gigawatts of power from non-fossil fuel sources by 2025 and also increase both its forest cover and the quality of its forest cover by a whopping five million hectares during the same period.

The problem is that India needs millions of dollars to invest in renewable energy. The question remains: Where will this money come from? CSE has been following the renewable energy field very carefully.

Bhushan cites one example: "India received loans at subsidised rates to buy solar panels from the US, but there were a number of caveats attached to these loans. The US was not assisting India with climate finance. These loans were being given at two percent less interest so that the companies who received them bought solar panels only from US companies. This was strictly a business investment."

"As for the GCF, India has received a few million dollars for the climate adaptation but most of this money has been given to NABARD for agricultural development," Bhushan adds.

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) executive director Erik Solheim, responding to Trump's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, issued this statement: “The US decision to leave Paris in no way brings an end to this unstoppable effort. China, India, the European Union and others are already showing strong leadership. 190 nations are showing strong determination to work with them to protect this and future generations."

“Climate action is not a burden, but an unprecedented opportunity. Decreasing our dependence on fossil fuels will build more inclusive and robust economies. It will save millions of lives and slash the huge healthcare cost of pollution……. The reversal of damage to the ozone layer proves that such a global effort can succeed. Ultimately, this is an investment in our own survival that no-one can afford to abandon,” he added.

But the biggest threat of the US pullout lies elsewhere: According to UNEP, failure to cut emissions may increase the cost of mitigation to $300 billion by 2030 and up to $500 billion by 2050.

Dr Thomas Stocker, former co-chair of climate science for the IPCC and a climate environmental physicist at the University of Bern also issued a statement critical of how Trump chose to ignore scientific facts of climate disruption and the impact of climate change. He added that the Trump administration had chosen to reject the enormous benefits that the next industrial revolution – decarbonisation – had to offer.

When asked whether all countries would be able to bring down global temperature by two degrees, Dr Stocker, speaking with Firstpost, said that this was an extremely ambitious target, especially since since there have been record breaking emissions world wide, which made it difficult to reach this goal.

"We now have a limited carbon budget. We have already exhausted two-thirds of our budget in the last 250 years. We have one-third of the budget left, which is expected to be consumed in the next 25 years. Aggressive reduction of emission rates is the only way we can achieve this two degree Celsius target," Stocker said.

But the key question on who will take the lead on climate leadership remains unanswered. Especially now, when every nation has to follow its own INDCs [Intended Nationally Determined Contributions].

India is following its INDCs with a laser focus.  By 2022, India hopes to install one lakh MW of solar, 60,000 MW of wind, 10,000 MW of hydropower and 5,000 MW of biomass-based electricity capacity. The government has also released data to show that 238 million LEDs have been distributed in villages, to the urban poor and the LPG Direct Benefit Transfer Scheme has seen over 176 million households use cleaner cooking fuels.

The US and China have signed an agreement to limit carbon emissions. The G7 nations have given a long-term declaration (to stop fossil use) and the French have passed a new legislation to cut use of fossil fuel and nuclear energy.

During his recent Russia visit, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that India was committed to honouring the Paris accord irrespective of the course chosen by other countries. He even quoted the Vedas, saying that harming nature was the ultimate crime.

Former environment minister Jairam Ramesh attempted to make India the world leader in the fight against climate change. India has been a leader of the G77 block of developing nations, while China has provided political support and financial assistance to the G77.

Modi is aware of this fact: Which is why during his talks with French president Macron, he stressed that India was committed to 'go above and beyond' the Paris accord. Indians are also keen for our government to show a greater commitment to fighting climate change. Especially in the face of the hottest summer in the past 100 years.


Published Date: Jun 05, 2017 06:27 pm | Updated Date: Jun 05, 2017 06:27 pm


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