The US withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord will not have much impact on the fight against global warming as India and others take the lead in embracing renewable energy. Just as US President Donald Trump's repudiation of the Trans Pacific Partnership provided Chinese President Xi Jinping the opportunity to present himself as the prime defender of the globalised trading order, the US walkout of the Paris Climate Pact has presented Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi the rare chance of presenting India as the leader of the global fight against climate change. And Modi, who has a reputation of being able to spot an opportunity before most others, is alive to the potential this has to propel India into a global leadership position. Reaffirming support Reacting to the US withdrawal from the Paris Climate Pact, Modi told reporters on his recent four-nation tour to Europe: “Paris or no Paris, our commitment to preserving the climate is for the sake of future generations. We must leave for our future generations a climate wherein they can breathe clean air and have a healthy life.” Reaffirming India's stand later during his European sojourn, the Prime Minister asserted: “India is a responsible nation with regard to climate change... We can milk the nature... Exploitation of nature is not acceptable to us. India has been working to protect the environment even before the Paris deal was reached in 2015. For the last 5000 years, even when I was not born, it has been the tradition in India to protect the environment.” He will now have to work closely with the governments of Germany, France and the UK to fulfil his pledge but more on that later. The Paris pact The Paris Climate Agreement binds signatory countries to cut the emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, through voluntary “nationally determined contributions”, to ensure that the average temperature on earth does not rise more than 2 degrees Celsius over that in 1880, the year from which such records are available. Readers must note that blatant and brazen disregard of environmental norms over the last 137 years have already raised earth's average temperature by 1.3 degrees Celsius over that in 1880. This means, the goal from hereon is to ensure that we cap the rise in temperature to 0.7 degrees Celsius. If we fail, climate change will continue unabated, global warming will pick up pace, the Arctic Ice Cap will melt further, raising water levels across oceans and seas around the world and sink large swathes of coastal regions and islands across continents. Weather patterns will change unpredictably, making Monsoons more erratic and lead to widespread migration of “climate refugees” to higher altitudes. The turmoil and violence this will unleash across the globe can be gauged from the reactions in some European countries to the influx of a few hundred thousand refugees from the Middle East. Imagine the scale of disruption if millions of displaced people were to cross borders in search of refuge and safety. Why the US withdrew The Paris pact offered the world a way to avert the coming apocalypse. It follows the polluter pays principle, which means that countries like China, the US and India, which are the three largest emitters of greenhouse gases, discharging 30 per cent, 15 per cent and 7 per cent, respectively, of global emissions annually bear the brunt of the costs and efforts involved. But, at the insistence of India and China, countries such as the US and the industrialised nations of Europe, which have historically discharged a disproportionate amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere were obligated to contribute funds and technology to help emerging and poorer nations to meet their climate change obligations. President Trump, however, incorrectly interpreted this to allege that India and China were seeking huge sums of money in return for staying in the pact. He added: “Compliance with the terms of the Paris Accord... could cost America as much as 2.7 million lost jobs by 2025... This includes 440,000 fewer manufacturing jobs... by 2040, compliance with the commitments put into place by the previous administration would cut production for the following sectors: paper down 12 per cent; cement down 23 per cent; iron and steel down 38 per cent; coal -and I happen to love the coal miners - down 86 per cent; natural gas down 31 per cent.” Trump went on to add: “The cost to the economy at this time would be close to $3 trillion in lost GDP and 6.5 million industrial jobs, while households would have $7,000 less income and, in many cases, much worse than that.” He forgot to add that he got these figures from a National Economic Research Associates study that added a key caveat: “Does not take into account potential benefits from avoided emissions.” “... Thus, as of today, the United States will cease all implementation of the nonbinding Paris accord and the draconian financial and economic burdens the agreement imposes on our country,” Trump said early in his speech. Then, in a reference that can only be termed uninformed, the US President said: “Further, while the current agreement effectively blocks the development of clean coal in America, China will be allowed to build hundreds of additional coal plants. So we can′t build the plants but they can. According to this agreement, India will be allowed to double its coal production by 2020. Think of it. India can double their coal production. We′re supposed to get rid of ours.” Show me the money It will take the US about four years to exit the pact - around the time Trump's term ends. But some of the damage could be done by then. The US had pledged $3 billion to the $10-billion Green Climate Fund (GCF) of the United Nations. The GCF is mandated to finance efforts by emerging and poor nations to fight climate change. The US has provided $1 billion so far and there is no clarity yet on whether it will honour its pledge to contribute the balance $2 billion. If it doesn't, then EU, China and India, which have promised to redouble efforts to ensure that they meet the Paris pact targets with, or without the US, will have to find some way of plugging this gap. India takes the lead Contrary to what Trump said, India has committed to ensuring that 40 per cent of its energy comes from renewable sources by 2030. It has set a target of building 175 GW of renewable energy capacity by 2022. In fact, India's renewable energy targets, the highest in the world, is set to overtake Japan to emerge as the world's third largest solar energy market after China and the US.
Then, India's power, coal and renewable energy minister Piyush Goyal has set a very stiff target of ensuring that India has an all-electric car fleet by 2030. The Indian passenger car market crossed the three-million per annum mark in 2016-17 and is expected to cross the four million mark within the next four years. There is every possibility of India becoming the world's third largest car market by 2030. An all-electric automobile market combined with the ambitious renewable energy capacity - the government expects 40 per cent of India's power generation capacity to come from renewable energy by 2030 - will surely push India into the leadership position despite the problems that US withdrawal will create. So, given the deluge of investments, from foreign and domestic investors, in the solar energy sector, it is clear that India is not looking for funds from the US as alleged by Trump. Refuting the US President's assertions in no uncertain terms, Indian external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj said India did not join the Paris agreement under pressure for funds. Impact on the world Having said that, it is not as if the US move to withdraw from the Paris pact will definitely cost the world big time. “The fact that the US is pulling out is an enormous problem for India because we are a highly vulnerable country to climate change,” Navroz Dubash, Senior Fellow, Centre for Policy Research, was quoted as saying. “This will weaken the Paris Agreement to the extent that it encourages other countries to back out and so India stands to lose.” Then, India will lose out if, as a result of the US pullout, it has to step up its contributions of both cash as well as enhanced emission cuts. But experts insisted that India and China are already doing more than their bit in terms of adding renewable energy capacities. Therefore, it is up to the EU to pick up the slack in funding, they added. What India needs to do India's nationally determined commitments under the Paris accord are as follows: * To reduce the emissions intensity of GDP by 33 per cent-35 per cent by 2030 below 2005 levels * To increase the share of renewable energy to 40 per cent of installed electricity generation capacity by 2030 * To create a cumulative carbon sink of 2.5-3 GtCO2e through additional forest and tree cover by 2030 Emission intensity is ratio of greenhouse gases to GDP. Reducing the emission intensity of the GDP in line with India's NDC target in a short span of only 13 years is a humungous task. Analysts say that reaching the target of generating 40 per cent of electricity from renewable sources will involve shifting 26-30 per cent of the population to renewable energy. This will involve not only investments in green energy sources but also focus on behavioural changes in the population - and launch information dissemination programmes to make them more environmentally conscious. From Kyoto to Paris Long-time watchers of global climate change politics will feel a sense of déjà vu. After all, Trump is not the first US President to pull out of a global climate change pact. In 2001, under President George W. Bush, the country withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol. Most other developed countries, especially the EU, followed the US out of that agreement. This time, however, things are different. Trump's decision ensures that the US joins the likes of Syria and Nicaragua as countries defying the global consensus as reflected by the Paris pact. The EU, China and India are firmly on board, determined to save the earth from an ecological apocalypse. There is, however, another school of thought that thinks the hullaballoo over Trump's decision to withdraw from the Paris pact could be much ado about nothing. Why Since it will take the US another four years to withdraw from the treaty, some experts argue, there will be little short term impact of Trump's decision. And, there could be another President presiding over the White House by the time the US has to actually exit the Paris pact. Different administration; different priorities; different approach! Is that too optimistic a scenario Since the future of the world itself is at stake, there can't be much harm in dreaming.