The fear that some nations may follow suit the US action is now receding.
With US President Donald Trump’s pulling out of the Paris climate accord, the world now thinks that a leadership void has been created for climate governance at the global level. The moot question that now arises as to what extent it could adversely impact the progress of implementation of the accord. To evaluate this, we have to consider the following facts.
First, we need to be clear that it is the US administration, i.e. Washington, that is pulling out and not the United States of America. This is evident by the fact that many states of the US like California (the world’s sixth largest economy and a global leader on environmental protection), cities, big businesses and innovators (such as Microsoft, Apple, Tesla, Facebook, etc) have shown incredible and unprecedented commitment towards a low-carbon economy. They all think that it is necessarily required to compete and progress in a global economy. Moreover, governors of the states have sufficient powers in the US, thanks to its special federal structure, and many are devising their own climate change strategies, which would help them in deriving some political mileage.
Second, countries like India, China, Germany, France, Russia, Japan and the UAE have mustered enough courage and support from most of the nations to continue their climate action plans with greater vigour and force after the US has withdrawn. Erik Solheim, the executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), stated in an interview in India that the Paris agreement is unstoppable and the US President’s action has given a new sense of urgency, and like all leadership vacuum, it will also be filled.
Third, the US is a natural leader by virtue of its economic, political and technological power, otherwise some nations, as earlier mentioned, have worked closely with the US in bringing about the Paris accord. They all command respect and influence among other nations. The fear that some nations may follow suit the US action is now receding.
In view of the above, the world may see much reduced adverse impact of Washington’s withdrawal. Of course, US President will no longer provide funds to poorer nations for mitigating climate change, which is a disappointment, but funds like the Green Climate Fund will continue to operate to support these countries.
Despite all this, the leadership issue continues to weigh on our minds, and so there is a talk in some quarters about China or India assuming leadership. It would be worth examining the feasibility of the role for both.
Regarding China, although the country has a praiseworthy plan and action on mitigating climate change, it continues to have a hands-off approach in regional and global matters. Further, it also remains the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, contributing 30% of the world’s total GHG emissions, while the US and India contribute 15% (second) and 7% (third), respectively. Thus, China may not be the universally accepted leader to cope with climate issues.
Talking about India, it may have the right credentials to play the leadership role. German Chancellor Angela Merkel also sees a ‘trump card’ in Narendra Modi to tackle climate change. French President Emmanuel Macron and some world leaders express the same sentiment.
While the above thinking makes India feel proud, here one must not forget the big challenge for India in this task. It is because India, in the past few years, has sufficiently progressed to improve its relationship with the US politically at the international level. We not only need to preserve it, but also need to make make it more sound in the future. It is feared that the climate governance leadership role of India may disrupt the existing balance in our relations with Washington, which India can ill-afford at the present juncture. Besides, India, because of its financial constraints, would not be able to help poorer nations to execute their climate action plans.
So, in the existing scenario, what could be the suggestions for successful implementation of the Paris accord?
* Evolve some kind of a joint leadership of some of the countries mentioned above. This group may also take some steps to convince President Trump to revisit the climate issue. There are already some encouraging indications from the US President when he recently said, during his official trip to France, that “something could happen with respect to the Paris accord. We’ll see what happens.”
* All rich nations should enhance their contribution to climate fund and provide clean technologies to poorer nations at affordable prices to fill the gap created by the US pull-out. This would not make them any poor, as feared. Rather, the green push would enable them to create more jobs and add to their overall economy.
* India, on its part, should play the solar energy leadership role by quick action on the activities of the International Solar Alliance, which is PM Modi’s initiative, and promoting other forms of clean energy like wind power, etc.
To conclude, the world’s poorer nations, who are worst sufferers of climate change, are waiting to see a positive outcome of COP 23—to be held in Bonn, Germany, in November this year—on the Paris accord.