US President Donald Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the Paris Agreement will make it much more difficult for the world to attain global greenhouse gas emission reduction targets, though its impact on the efforts of other major countries, including India, are likely to be minimal.
The Paris Agreement seeks to restrict the rise of global average temperatures to within two degree Celsius from pre-industrial times. That is what science says is necessary to prevent catastrophic and irreversible impacts of climate change. As part of its contribution towards this goal, the United States had pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28 per cent compared to 2005 levels by the year 2025.
In real terms, this translates into a reduction of about 2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions from the 2005 levels of 7.4 billion tonnes by the year 2025. US emissions have already fallen from 2005 levels — it is currently estimated to be around 6.8 billion tonnes per year.
While Trump has decided to walk away from the Paris Agreement, he has not — not yet at least — explicitly abandoned emission reduction target, though he has stopped the “implementation” of the actions to achieve that target. He also reiterated his commitment to reopen some coal mines and hinted at slowing down the reduction in coal power generation, all of which would severely erode that target.
Considering that the US leaves its target — certainly, a part of it — unachieved, other countries have to try to fill in that gap by making additional emission reductions in order to keep the world on the same emissions pathway. This will be a herculean task for the other countries, especially since some of the other major players, like the European Union, Brazil and even India, already have far more ambitious targets and action plans than the US had put forward.
The absence of the US from the Paris Agreement will hurt the global climate architecture in other ways as well. The ability of the US to raise financial and technological resources is unmatched. The ability of developing and poor countries, which also happen to be some of the most vulnerable, to cope with the impacts of climate change depends directly on the financial and technological resources made available to them, at an affordable cost, by the United States and other developed countries.
Indeed, finance and transfer of technology are two of the most vital components of the Paris Agreement. The developed world, including the United States, had committed itself to mobilising at least US$ 100 billion in climate finance every year from the year 2020, even prior to the Paris Agreement. In Paris, they agreed to enhance this amount from the year 2025.
It is estimated that the cost of coping up with climate change is of a few higher orders of magnitude. As the world’s financial superpower, the United States is key to mobilsing these funds, and also making available the latest, even patented, technology to the rest of the world. It is here, that the US absence from the scene will hurt the world the most.
For other major players, though, the US decision is mainly an irritant in their own action plans to deal with climate change. This is true of India as well. India’s pledge at the Paris Agreement involved three big goals. It said it would bring down its emissions intensity — the emission per unit of GDP — by 35 to 33 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030; it said it would generate at least 40 per cent of its total electricity in 2030 from non-fossil fuel sources, and it also pledged to increase its forest cover to create an additional carbon sink of about 2.5 to three billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent. Besides, India has already embarked on a massive renewable energy programme involving the installation of solar, wind and nuclear energy.
None of these initiatives is at the mercy of any US decision. All of India’s programmes are being financed by itself and being carried out with its own technology. India and the United States do have a strong joint programme for clean energy and climate change but that is executed through bilateral mechanisms and has nothing to do with the Paris Agreement.
India has already made it clear that it would continue with its climate actions and has reaffirmed its commitment to the Paris Agreement. Just two days ago, as the US pull-out seemed imminent, Science and Technology Minister Harshvardhan, who also happens to be the Environment Minister now, posted a message on Twitter saying India remained “committed” to addressing challenges of climate change and would continue to work together with all other countries “in the spirit of Paris Agreement”.
The US decision to withdraw, therefore, is unlikely to have any direct bearing on India’s own climate programme. However, it certainly does hamper its ability to take accelerated actions that were contingent on access to international finance and technology.