climate change

Feeling the heat: How the US exit from Paris Agreement will affect India

On the bright side, it could have been worse.

President Donald Trump has withdrawn the United States from the Paris Agreement, a global deal signed by all but three countries in the world to cut back carbon emissions and thus limit the rise of global average temperatures to an optimistic two degrees Celsius.

The US is the highest historic contributor to carbon emissions and the second highest emitter at present. Under Barack Obama, the US had promised to lower its emissions by 26%-28% from the 2005 levels. Doing so would would have required a drastic scaling back of its coal energy and fossil fuels – the US ranks below only China in producing the most electricity from coal – and ramping up its push towards renewable energy.

But even with these commitments of the US and other countries, temperatures would have continued to rise, playing havoc with the planet. Already, glaciers are melting faster than ever, triggering a rise in sea levels, throwing wind patterns off kilter and possibly creating a flux in local weather systems. In the last decade, there has been a marked rise in extreme events of the southwest monsoon that brings the Indian subcontinent much of its rain.

If the US is no longer committing to reducing its carbon emissions, the efforts of the rest of the world might not be enough to stop the planet from heating.

Specifically, though, how will the US exit from the accord affect India’s climate change fight? “The fact that the US is pulling out is an enormous problem for India because we are a highly vulnerable country to climate change,” said Navroz Dubash, senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research in Delhi. “This weakens the Paris Agreement to the extent that it encourages other countries to back out and so India stands to lose.”

Abdicating responsibility

Many countries, including India, had conceded their demands for funding and higher responsibility for the developed world to ensure the US ratified the Paris Agreement. This included making each country’s declaration of their contributions to the climate change fight not legally binding. This is a key difference between the Paris Agreement and other global climate accords before it.

“The reason the Paris Agreement is not even near perfect is primarily because of the US,” said Indrajit Bose, a senior researcher at the Third World Network. “The negotiation happened in the context of historic responsibility and to help developing countries adopt different growth pathways. That has not happened.”

In negotiations, India has always advocated the ethical principle that those who have historically contributed to and benefited from carbon emissions should take the lead and finance the agreement, Dubash said.

“India has always run up against the realpolitik that the West is not willing to go beyond a point even though it has an obligation to do so,” Dubash added. “Trump’s actions now put this dilemma out in the open. We cannot pretend that we will have an agreement based on ethics or past responsibility, or one that is fuelled by international financing beyond a point.”

Strain on funding

As Bose pointed out in this article, the US has pledged $3 billion of a total global input from 43 countries of $10.13 billion for the Green Climate Fund of the United Nations. This fund is meant to help developing countries build capacity to adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change. But the US has provided only $1 billion of its commitment so far.

In April, the fund approved a $34 million project for solar micro-irrigation and watershed management in Odisha, Bose said. The project is to be implemented by the National Bank for Agricultural and Rural Development. It is unclear what will happen to this and other projects sanctioned under the fund now. “In terms of emissions, the US had committed very little,” Bose said. “The impact of its exit will be felt far more on finance.”

Since India’s adaptation needs are high and urgent, it plans to send other projects to the green fund for approval. The country’s poor might be at risk if finances get pinched, or if the European Union pressures India into stepping up its contributions. “There is all this talk of India and China rising to the occasion,” Bose said. “But they are already doing their bit and it is the developed countries that need to fill the gap in funding. Otherwise, we will not be able to fulfil these climate goals.”

From Kyoto to Paris

This is not the first time the US has pulled out of a global climate agreement. In 2001, under President George W Bush, the country withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol. Other developed countries followed suit and the agreement tanked. But there is a difference. The Kyoto Protocol depended on industrialised countries acting first. Without the US, the agreement could not hold and other countries exited as well. The Paris Agreement is far broader and other major economies, including in the European Union, have reaffirmed their support to the agreement.

Another difference, Dubash said, is that the US does not have as much global heft as it used to. “The US is simply not the same hegemon it was then,” he said. “In political terms, China is far more powerful and visible. The US is also not quite as dominant in the emissions sense. While [US withdrawal] is important certainly, it is arguably more important what China does now. And it is quite important what the developing world does because we are the ones changing the fastest.”

Silver lining

With the cost of renewable energy at an all-time low, India is on track to meet its target of generating 40% of its total energy from renewable sources by 2030. Its other targets include lowering the emissions intensity of the GDP by 33%-35% below the 2005 levels, also by 2030.

Climate Action Tracker has positively rated India’s steps so far, but recommends that it upgrade its nationally determined contributions under the Paris Agreement so that the rest of the world benefits as well.

The risk with the US exit, however, is that other nations might attempt to back down on their commitments, putting more burden on countries like India and China. “I think it is important that India be one of the loudest voices in support of maintaining the Paris Agreement,” Dubash said. “Trying to open the door to any kind of reconsideration would be a real failure. In that, the US has to be isolated.”

Since the US has to wait four years before its exit is final, it will still be at the negotiating table, Bose said. What kinds of deals the US will push for is anybody’s guess.

There is, however, a silver lining to the US exit, and Dubash said it was important to acknowledge. “A lot of the world wanted the US to stay in at any cost,” Dubash said. “But had the US stayed in, it would probably have weakened its pledge as a condition of doing so.”

That, Dubash argued, would have been a far worse outcome than the US leaving.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.