As the world observes yet another global environment day, the events in the background paint a mixed picture. There is America opting to exit from the Paris Accord on climate change mitigation, signed in the year 2015 by 194 countries committing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and restricting the rise in global average temperature to below 2 deg C above pre-industrial levels. The previous US administration had played a major role in facilitating the historical accord by committing to overdue emission cuts. Yet the gentleman now at the helm in America attributes his decision to ‘the unfairness’ of the deal, the special treatment for India and China. Regrettable a response and the height of irresponsibility one would think, coming from a country that presently is the second highest polluter, just a tad below China. The following table puts the figures in perspective:
|Country||CO2 emissions (kt) in 2015||% CO2 emissions by country||Emission per capita (t) in 2015|
|United Arab Emirates||199,253||0.55%||21.8|
(Statistics courtesy Google)
It must be noted that per capita emission is more important than percentage of emission as it is an index of the living standards of people. A higher per capita emission would point to higher consumption of amenities and utilities arising obviously from superior lifestyles. Whereas the (UK included) 28 member European Union with a population of 510 million, and America with a population of 326 million account for per capita emission that respectively equates to nearly four times and eight times more than India with a population of 1.34 billion, it is explicitly clear as to who the world’s biggest polluters are.
So was the previous US administration extending any special concession to India and China? Saner thinking would point to clarity that prevailed earlier in due recognition of economic and social development achieved by Americas and Europe through enormous consumption of earth’s resources and burning of fossil fuels the process entailed, a situation still largely continuing, and the consequent imperative of curtailing emission levels whilst prudently allowing populous and developing countries (read India and China) to viably pursue the path of progress using low cost energy such as coal and oil. While it is incumbent on developed economies (read USA and EU) to curtail carbon emission by migrating to cleaner forms of energy, it is certainly not fair to insist that developing countries also adopt the same path, as the sudden switch to clean energy requires huge investment which is not immediately feasible for many of the developing economies. Hence the Paris Accord is not a concession to India and China, it only accommodates a sense of fair play and the polluter-pays-principle while insisting all signatory countries to commit to stipulated emission controls, without legal binding.
The White House Rose Garden tirade of the present occupant against the Paris Pact has, therefore, no basis in fact. India did not make its participation contingent on receiving billions of dollars in aid from developed countries, other than insisting on realistic timeframes and targets based on judicious assessment of various constraints and compulsions of developing economies. Total foreign aid to India in the year 2015 was a meagre usd 3.1 billion, of which American contribution amounted to just about usd 100 million, which is being whittled down to usd 34 million. Interestingly, India buys Californian almonds worth usd 100 million every year, in addition to armaments equating to billions of dollars in value. India today is more of an aid donor than aid recipient and offers ample opportunities for investments with availability of qualified and skilled manpower, and demographic dividend quantifying to 650 million people below 25 years of age, apart from being a huge domestic market for consumer and capital goods. No other country holds similar advantages. The other hyperbolized US claim is that the Green Climate Fund (GCF) is of usd 100 billion whereas the actual corpus is only usd 10.3 billion. All contributions to GCF are voluntary, thus it obligates neither US nor any other country for finances. The gentleman in the White House is reportedly contemplating on giving his consent to renegotiate for a re-entry into Paris Deal, but the reality is terms of the agreement signed by 194 countries around the world cannot now be renegotiated. Does anyone want to waste time talking to a gentleman who does not believe in documented scientific data, who does not believe that Arctic ice sheets are melting, summers are getting harsher and winters more extreme?
There is no truth in either India or China planning massive investments in coal based energy plants as several major cities in both countries are reeling under high pollution levels and perforce need to migrate to clean energy. Despite its developmental challenges, India is rapidly increasing its renewable energy capacity. The goal is to achieve a forty percent reduction in emissions in planned forward time horizons. While Kochi, my home city, already boasts of the first fully solar-power operated international airport anywhere in the world, my home state of Kerala with a population of about 33 million is commemorating world environment day by planting 10 million saplings, thereby committing every third person in the state to becoming part of the Green Kerala Initiative. Including Kerala, many states in India are planning the gradual shift to electric vehicles to replace diesel run vehicles in public transport services.
On the macro front, the US exit may well catalyze a new EU-Asia axis to pursue emission targets set forth in the Paris Accord. It is not also as if all states in America are united behind the exit. Atlanta recently became the 27th city in the US to pledge going totally green, committing to transition all its buildings to clean energy sources by year 2025 and 100 percent renewable energy by year 2035. It means that even if US administration is not in the Paris agreement, individual states and cities in the US may remain supportive of the deal. The other encouraging trend is the price of solar and wind energy equipments are declining, giving further traction to enterprises of countries driving the shift to clean energy. The recent study by Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) corroborates that climate protection and sustainable development can go hand-in-hand. The report estimates that on an average usd 6.3 trillion of investment in infrastructure is required annually between year 2016 and 2030 to meet development needs worldwide, with an additional usd 600 billion a year over the same period to make these investments climate-compatible, a relatively small increase considering the short and long term gains in terms of productivity, growth and well-being.
With global response strengthening against the threat of environment deterioration, the momentum is bound to swing towards safer and sustainable practices whereby coal and oil interests are destined to find themselves out of sync. It may as well be a human response to a long overdue love and compassion to earth, with an abiding concern for future generations. The compelling necessity is to work towards abundance and rejuvenation epitomized in the seed dissolving into the womb of mother earth to spring forth as flowering plants and fruiting trees with a profusion of seeds to drive home the message of giving, and multiplying unconditionally, a gesture that humans have hitherto been gleefully exploiting without limit. The question is if it can at this late stage be reciprocated in some measure by the world coming together to make planet earth great again? Or, will it continue in mindless greed, and insanity as reflected in the words of Hubert Reeves: “Man is the most insane of species. He worships an invisible god and destroys a visible Nature. Unaware that this Nature he is destroying is this god he is worshiping”.