Less than five months after assuming office, US President Donald J. Trump has fulfilled his ludicrous “election promise” to withdraw his country from the Paris Climate Change Agreement. The decision puts the US, which claims leadership in global environmental negotiations, in telling company: War-ravaged Syria, and Nicaragua, which has argued that the Paris pact is not radical enough.
Trump’s decision was not unexpected. Nevertheless, the announcement was appalling in its rejection of the science and history of climate change, and smacked of the US president’s contempt for India and China. “I cannot support a deal that punishes the United States, the world’s leader in environmental protection, while imposing no meaningful obligations on the world’s leading polluters…. India can double its coal production.
But we are supposed to get rid of our coal plants,” Trump said. That is somewhat rich coming from the president of a nation whose annual greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are second only to that of far more populous China.
Historically, the US has pumped in more GHG into the atmosphere than any other country. But like the then-US president George W. Bush, who refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol in 2001, Trump has always denied America’s historical culpability in climate change. Much has, however, changed between 2001 and today, and Trump is unlikely to get away with his braggadocio, like Bush did. The US president’s climate denial has got him bad press from not just global political leaders but also the Pope and corporates such as Exxon-Mobil. The US decision is unlikely to have a domino effect and other countries are unlikely to ease their efforts to decarbonise.
India and China, whose per capita GHG footprint is far lower than the US, have affirmed their commitment to the Paris agreement. In fact, India’s target of producing 40 per cent of its installed electricity capacity by 2030 from non-fossil fuels outstrips that of the US by 10 per cent. With Trump reiterating his “commitment” to reopen some coal mines, the US might now find it difficult to attain this comparatively conservative target.
The absence of the US from the Paris agreement will hurt the pact in other ways. A core condition in the Paris pact commitments of most developing nations is the promise of financial and technology support from developed countries. On Thursday, Trump announced that his government will go back on the Barack Obama administration’s promise of a $3 billion contribution to help poor nations develop sustainable energy sources. Meanwhile, the EU commissioner for climate action and energy, Miguel Arias Canete, has pledged continued “global leadership” on climate change.
But will the EU also put its money where its mouth is?