Protest demonstrations in several cities and hectic consultations between major world leaders have been going on in the last 24 hours as the world tries to come to terms with the shock withdrawal of the United States from the landmark 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.
European leaders Angela Merkel of Germany, newly elected French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni issued a joint statement expressing their disappointment at US President Donald Trump’s decision and dismissing his offer to renegotiate the Paris Agreement.
“I tell you firmly tonight: We will not renegotiate a less ambitious accord. There is no way,” Macron was quoted as saying in a separate televised address. “Don’t be mistaken on climate; there is no plan B because there is no planet B,” he said.
In St Petersburg, Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not directly comment on the US decision but said India was committed to protecting the climate. Britain, Mexico and Canada also expressed their disappointment at the US decision. Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Patricia Espinosa, said the Paris Agreement, which had been signed by 194 countries and ratified by 147, would not be renegotiated “based on the request of a single party”.
Trump was never expected to offer any cogent reasons for pulling the United States 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 Paris Agreement was that it was “unfair” to the United States, 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 United States was being asked to “get rid of ours”.
Both his assertions are far from being true.
India’s participation in 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 per cent from 2005 levels by the year 2030. It had also promised to increase its forest cover to create an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent by the year 2030. The third promise was to ensure that at least 40 per cent 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.
Trump’s second reference to India was also dubious. India might be “allowed” to double its coal production by 2020 — no country, including the United States is banned from doing this under the provisions of the Paris Agreement — but has no such plans.
India’s current annual production of coal is between 650 and 700 million tonnes. Until a couple of years earlier, the domestic demand for coal was slightly higher and coal used to be imported. But more recently, the coal demand has gone below the amount of production, thereby building up of stocks. With not many new coal power plants being set up, the demand is unlikely to reach levels where India would have to double its production to around 1.2 to 1.3 billion tonnes every year.
In fact, the draft National Electricity Plan of 2016, finalised a year after 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, 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 United States due to the Paris Agreement were highly exaggerated. More people are employed in the renewable energy sector in the US now compared to coal industry.
But the US President was in no mood to let facts come in the way of his rhetoric. He argued that walking out of the Paris climate agreement was in the best “economic interest” of the United States, it represented a “reassertion of America’s sovereignty”, and the only reason why “foreign lobbyists” and “economic competitors” wanted the US to be part of the Paris Agreement was that it would put America to a “very, very big economic disadvantage”.
Clearly, Trump 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 United States had offered to cut down its emissions by 26-28 per cent from 2005 levels by the year 2025. That roughly translates to a 17 per cent cut from 1990 levels.
The European Union, which emits far less than the United States, has a target of 40 per cent 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 per cent from 2005 levels by the year 2025 and 43 per cent by 2030.
Instead of acknowledging the historical responsibility of the United States, 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 a result of US not being happy with Kyoto Protocol, the 1997 climate agreement that is set to now expire in 2020.