While the Indian Supreme Court batted for the environment by banning the sale of BS-III vehicles—the new pollution standards for vehicles, BS-IV, kick in from April —despite considerable opposition from automobile majors, the US set the world several steps back in its fight against climate change on Tuesday. Though the US is the world’s largest emitter of CO2 in per capita terms and the second-highest in terms of volume, president Trump signed an executive order that dismantles Obama-era measures to reduce America’s emissions. The order directs US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to redraft the Clean Power Plan, that aimed to get coal-fired power generations plants—these are the largest greenhouse gas emitters in the country, accounting for nearly a third of the total emissions—to cut their emissions by 32% over 2005 levels by 2030. For perspective, that would have been equivalent to taking 70% of the cars in the US off the roads.
Trump, who has proposed cutting the EPA’s budget by a third and has expressly denied anthropogenic climate change, wants the burden on electricity generators reduced significantly – to “end the war on coal … and the theft of American prosperity”, as his administration argues. The order also envisages a lifting of the moratorium on coal leasing and ends the requirement that federal officials factor in climate-change impact while taking key decisions. Coal mining jobs in the US that number around 75,000 today have been declining, and the present dispensation at the Oval Office has hinged its rhetoric to creating more jobs for Americans.
The regulatory relaxations Trump is promising may help improve the health of coal companies, 50 of which have filed for bankruptcy since 2012. A Washington Post analysis which argues most of these measures are unlikely to disrupt the broader trend of a shift of the electricity mix in the country away from coal and towards natural gas and renewables offers some hope.
It is, of course, not surprising the Trump administration would shrug off climate concerns, given the president’s pre-election rhetoric. While Scott Pruitt, the
Trump-select who heads EPA, wants to drastically limit the regulator’s powers and jurisdiction—he also believes that CO2 is not a “primary contributor” to global warming—the Republicans have introduced a one-line Bill in the Congress, HR 861, that reads: “The Environmental Protection Agency shall terminate on December 31, 2018.” The Trump administration had also earlier announced that it would reconsider the strict emission and fuel-efficiency standards on cars and light trucks.
The fear, thus, is that the Trump administration could eventually upend a carefully negotiated global accord—arrived at the Paris summit in 2015 where the US committed to cut its emissions by 25-28% over 2005 levels by 2025. Even though the executive order is silent on this—the administration at the moment is divided on the issue—there are enough signals from Trump that make it difficult to rule out the US reneging. Given the grave consequences of this—other countries will almost certainly follow suit—all efforts have to be made to convince president Trump of the disaster that awaits the world if temperatures rise by more than 2oC.