United States President Donald Trump on Thursday announced that his country had pulled out of the non-binding Paris climate agreement, formally known as the Conference of Parties protocol on combating climate change. With this, the US, the country responsible for the highest percentage of carbon emissions worldwide, is no longer a signatory to the December 2015 agreement.
But what is the Paris agreement?
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said that if the world gets warmer by more than 2 degrees Celsius over the remainder of the century, there will be a rise in the number of “extreme climate events” on the planet. This include higher sea levels, changes in weather patterns, food and water crises and other adverse effects.
In December, 2015, 195 countries came together and signed the Paris accord, which seeks to prevent global temperatures from rising below 2 degrees Celsius – in fact it attempts to restrict this to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
The progress made by the countries who have signed the agreement will be reviewed every five years. Developed countries have pledged $100 billion (approximately Rs 6.4 lakh crore) as climate finance every year to developing countries till 2020, an amount that will be reviewed later on.
Since carbon emissions are the biggest cause of global warming, 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.
Where does India figure in all of this?
While the US and China are the world’s top two polluters, India also contributes significantly, accounting for over 4% of global emissions. After ratifying the Paris accord on October 2, 2016, India became bound to reducing its carbon footprint by 33% to 35% from its 2005 levels, by 2030.
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, a report in Mint had said in 2016. India also needs to increase its forest cover by 5 million hectares during this period, as well as improve the quality of its green cover, the report had said.
How does Trump’s decision affect India – and everyone else?
For India to invest in renewable energy and other means to combat climate change, it will need the billions of dollars in aid that have been promised by developed countries in the pact. It is precisely this promise that Donald Trump sees as a problem.
“India makes its participation [in the climate agreement] contingent on receiving billions and billions and billions of dollars in foreign aid from developed countries,” Trump had said on Thursday, while calling the deal “unfair” to the United States. He then complained that India is allowed to double its coal production by 2020 under the deal. Trump also attacked neighbouring China, claiming the deal allows it to increase its carbon emissions for the next 13 years.
Further, while Trump wants to look at “renegotiating a better deal if possible”, Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron in a joint statement flatly refused to do so.
Now that the US has pulled out of the deal, China, the world’s second largest emitter, becomes the dominant negotiator in climate change talks – and China’s ties with India remain tense. Beijing has also argued in the past for weaker accountability and oversight mechanisms. This could jeopardise the implementation of the climate deal.
Moreover, after the US’ exit from the deal, other countries could soon follow suit, or at least scale back their efforts to combat climate change, as this report in Vox details.
Because of its pullout from the climate pact, US will probably not achieve its target of reducing carbon emissions by 26 to 28 per cent by 2025. Therefore, other countries will have to fill that gap by making additional emission cuts.
Especially bad timing for India
Trump’s decision to withdraw from the climate deal and attack India and China comes at a most inopportune time for India – Prime Minister Narendra Modi is slated to visit the White House later this month, though the official dates have not been announced. While India has not released an official statement on the US withdrawing from the deal, The Times of India reported on Friday that Indian and US officials have already been in touch, with frantic phone calls and cables being exchanged between the two countries immediately after Trump’s announcement. Commentators will be watching closely to see how India proceeds from here on.