The more restrained debate on Thursday night (Friday morning India time), in contrast to the rude and contentious first one, between President Donald Trump and his challenger, Jo Biden, may not move the needle too much in the US presidential election campaign — millions have already voted and most seem to have made up their minds. Although the race has tightened in the last few days, Biden still holds a relatively comfortable lead. But the debate is of interest to the rest of the world, for its focus, though limited, was on foreign policy. The arguments generated some heat but did not shed much light on where the next administration’s policies might be headed. But there was one exception — climate change, on which the two leaders offered radically different approaches to addressing the challenges of global warming.
Trump’s comments on India’s “filthy air” came with reference to the 2015 Paris Accord that sought to limit global temperature rise to below two degrees centigrade. Trump, who walked out of the accord, has said is unfair to the US and that he is not willing to pay the costs of mitigation while countries such as India, China and Russia continue to pollute. Biden and the Democrats, in contrast, promise to re-join the pact — they believe climate change is the single most important threat to humanity and needs to be addressed urgently. In the last four years, Trump has gutted most of the regulations on fossil fuel use, instituted over the last two decades, in the name of economic growth and job creation. The Democrats say the phasing out of fossil fuels will help America transition to a green economy, which will create jobs as well as save the planet.
This debate has significant implications for India. If he returns to power, Trump will continue to demand that India take a greater share of the burden of mitigating climate change. The Democrats are likely to arrive at the same conclusion through a different route — by imposing environmental standards on trade issues as well as developmental lending. The Narendra Modi government has taken a positive approach to mitigating climate change and expanding India’s investment in renewable energy. However, Delhi’s reluctance to abandon coal will come under pressure from the Democrats. Meanwhile, anticipating pressure from a Biden presidency on climate change, China is offering serious negotiations. In India, the government is yet to take international ramifications of the air pollution challenge seriously. Delhi may have to take a fresh look at its energy-mix, and prepare for a new round of international political battles on limiting global warming.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines