President Donald Trump was never expected to offer any cogent reasons for pulling the US out of the Paris agreement on climate change, but what he came up with on Thursday night was not even factually correct, especially his two references about India. Trump’s main justification for walking out of the Paris deal was that it was “unfair” to the US, and that it did not put similar level of obligations on “top polluters” like China and India.
He went on to claim that India had made its participation in the Paris agreement “contingent on receiving billions and billions and billions of dollars in foreign aid from developing countries”. At another point, he said India “will be allowed to double its coal production by 2020″ while the US was being asked to “get rid of ours”.
Both his assertions are far from being true. India’s participation in the Paris agreement is not contingent on even a single dollar of foreign aid. Neither is any other country’s participation. As part of its contribution to the global fight against climate change, India had promised to achieve three main quantifiable targets. It had said it will reduce its emission intensity — emissions per unit of GDP — by 33-35% from 2005 levels by 2030. It had also promised to increase its forest cover to create an additional carbon sink of 2.5 billion to 3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2030.
The third promise was to ensure that at least 40% of its total installed electricity generation capacity would comprise of non-fossil fuel sources. None of these goals is backed by any foreign “aid”.
In fact, India had said it would be in a position to scale up the ambition of its targets if it was in a position to access international finance and technology.
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Trump’s second reference to India was also dubious. India might be “allowed” to double its coal production by 2020 — no country, including the US, is banned from doing this under the provisions of the Paris agreement, but New Delhi has no such plans. India’s current annual production of coal is between 650 million and 700 million tonnes. Till a couple of years earlier, domestic demand for coal was slightly higher and coal used to be imported. But more recently, coal demand has gone below the amount of production, thereby building up stocks. With not many new coal power plants being set up, demand is unlikely to reach levels where India would have to double its production to around 1.2 billion to 1.3 billion tonnes every year.
In fact, the draft National Electricity Plan of 2016, finalised a year after the Paris agreement, clearly says that no additional coal-based power plant would be needed to be set up beyond 2022, after the current set of under-construction projects become operational.
Interestingly, the US, even in the current phase-down mode of its coal power plants, still produces more coal than India every year.
Trump’s claims on job losses in the coal sector in the US due to the Paris agreement was highly exaggerated. More people are employed in the renewable energy sector in the US now compared to coal industry.
He also ignored the fact that US continues to be the world’s biggest polluter historically by a long distance even though China now emits more every year than the US. He ignored the fact that many others, like the European Union or Brazil or even India, had far more ambitious action plans on climate change than the US. As part of the Paris agreement, the US had offered to cut down its emissions by 26-28% from 2005 levels by 2025. That roughly translates to a 17% cut from 1990 levels. The European Union, which emits far less than the US, has a target of 40% cuts from 1990 levels. Brazil, a much smaller emitter and a developing country with far less resources, has promised to reduce its emissions by 37% from 2005 levels by 2025 and 43% by 2030.
Instead of acknowledging the historical responsibility of the US, Trump saw the financial provisions of the Paris agreement as “yet another scheme to redistribute wealth out of the United States”.
His offer to “renegotiate” the Paris agreement was also problematic. It overlooked the fact that the Paris agreement itself was also a result of US not being happy with Kyoto Protocol, the 1997 climate agreement that is set to now expire in 2020.