June 5, the date on which the first Rio Earth Summit was held in 1992, is a dire reminder to the entire world of hazardous consequences of ‘ climate change’ due to human activities. This year, it had assumed added significance in view of the anxiety over the extent of US administration commitment and support to the historic Paris Agreement (COP 21) after Trump took over as US president. This concern was clearly expressed at recently held dialogue at Petersburg in preparation to the November 2017 Climate Conference (COP23) in Bonn. Here, it may be mentioned that the US, under Barrack Obama, had signed the Paris Agreement along with 195 countries and submitted its INDCs, as done by other countries, for compliance. In the past, except for Al Gore, former VP of the US and author of “An Inconvenient Truth”, America rejected the Kyoto Protocol without offering convincing reasons. It completely ignored the development needs of poor countries who have to mitigate their extreme poverty and who have immensely suffered in the past due to heavy carbon emissions of the US and other rich countries since the advent of Industrial Revolution in 1850 or so. This briefly describes the variation in approach to climate issues by different prominent personalities of the US earlier. The question that the entire world faces now is why is the US aunder Trump abandoning its commitments under the Paris Accord. This fear was expressed at Marrakash at COP22 in 2016 also. Trump has cited three main reasons for pulling out of Paris Agreement.
First, he thinks that, because of Obama-era restrictions in pursuance of Paris Agreement, there is a freeze on running of existing coal-fired power plants and building of new ones, opening of new and old coal mines and coal gas burning operations, and that this has led to a fall in jobs available in the country. He also ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to roll back the Clean Power Plan that had been started by Obama.
That way, he thinks he can save coal-fired power production and mining jobs—one of his pre-election promises—though the coal industry generates very high levels of pollution. Then, why not implement Obama’s Clean Power Plan which has a great potential for job creation and is now much cheaper also? Surely, the president must be aware that the US is a world-leader in renewable energy, in terms of technology and high-class equipment, and would immensely benefit economically (employment wise) and environmentally from the Paris agreement.
There are nearly 170 countries under the International Solar Alliance (an initiative of Indian prime minister Narendra Modi and former French president Francois Hollande) that require its technology and equipment for generation of solar energy. This would open up great opportunities of employment in the US and would more than compensate for the job loss in mining. At present, the US has only 0.78 million people employed in production of renewable energy (excluding big hydro-power) while China has 3.6 million out of a total of 8.3 million worldwide. Has the US done this analysis in a truly scientific manner which is necessary to arrive at a correct decision? Perhaps not. Let it be done urgently.
Second, Trump argued that US GDP would shrink by $2.5 trillion due to closure of factories and plants over ten years if Paris Accord is implemented. This argument is fallacious if the heavy cost of restoring the health of US citizens—suffering due to lack of clean air to breathe and clean water, which Trump himself believes are vital for Americans—is taken into account. Moreover, we need to understand that economists now work out GDP by considering the value of it natural capital base and account for its destruction for economic development.
Third, Trump thinks that the Paris Accord is soft on China and India.
This perception needs to be corrected. If we examine carefully, China committed to reduce carbon emission intensity per unit of GDP by 60-65% by 2030 from its 2005 level and India (whose per capita emissions are very low as compared to USA and China) has committed to reduce emission intensity by 33-35 %. Rather, if Trump’s executive orders are now implemented, US emission reductions would fall to 14% from 26-28% as committed under the Paris Accord. In fact, the US and other rich nations have to reduce their emissions much more than what they have committed to if the rise in global temperature is to be kept below 2o C. Let the US not lose its leadership role in fighting climate change and saving the planet from devastation.
Author is Former member of ISS, and director, CSO & UN consultant