With US out of Paris treaty, can we re­visit Ky­oto?

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - VIEWS -

US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump pulled his coun­try out of the Paris cli­mate change agree­ment last month. His move gen­er­ated a lot of heat in po­lit­i­cal, diplo­matic and me­dia cir­cles — and most of the re­ac­tions were ex­tremely crit­i­cal. Trump’s in­ter­na­tional iso­la­tion was ob­vi­ous then and be­came al­most phys­i­cally ev­i­dent at the just-con­cluded G20 sum­mit in Ham­burg, Ger­many.

The Paris Agree­ment is not bind­ing; in other words, it con­tains com­mit­ments on emis­sion cuts and, mostly on the part of de­vel­oped na­tions, fund­ing for de­vel­op­ing or less de­vel­oped coun­tries meant to fa­cil­i­tate ac­cess to green tech­nolo­gies, which should be un­der­taken on a vol­un­tary ba­sis.

Be­sides, the Paris Agree­ment does not fully honor the Ky­oto Pro­to­col and the United Na­tions Frame­work Con­ven­tion on Cli­mate Change, which en­shrined two im­por­tant prin­ci­ples in global cli­mate ne­go­ti­a­tions: his­toric re­spon­si­bil­ity (and re­lated to it the idea of emis­sion space for de­vel­op­ing and less de­vel­oped coun­tries) and the idea that de­vel­oped coun­tries had to un­der­take bind­ing obli­ga­tions.

After years of post-Copen­hagen ne­go­ti­a­tions, the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity agreed to junk these fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ples to get the United States on board. And Trump has made a mock­ery of that com­pro­mise.

Sev­eral propo­si­tions fol­low log­i­cally. The first is that the tar­gets en­vis­aged un­der the Paris cli­mate deal can­not be met with­out the ac­tive par­tic­i­pa­tion of the US.

Some US states, like Cal­i­for­nia, and some US cor­po­ra­tions have promised to for­mu­late tar­gets and meet them; some will en­ter into sep­a­rate agree­ments with rel­e­vant (per­haps UN-man­dated) au­thor­i­ties to pur­sue this end. These states and cor­po­ra­tions could also con­trib­ute to the cor­pus in­tended to help poorer coun­tries to fol­low a cleaner growth track. Still, with­out the par­tic­i­pa­tion of the US in its en­tirety, the Paris tar­gets can­not be met.

No amount of ef­fort by other coun­tries to take up the slack will be enough if Trump does not re­con­sider his ill-con­sid­ered de­ci­sion. And the G20 sum­mit pro­vided enough ev­i­dence that Trump has no in­ten­tion of back­ing down. This ev­i­dence came in con­nec­tion to the question on the use of fos­sil fu­els, which are largely re­spon­si­ble for the emis­sion of green­house gases. The US, how­ever, has said it would work with other coun­tries to­ward cleaner and more ef­fi­cient use of these fu­els, with­out com­mit­ting any time frame for phas­ing them out. And this is just one of the many prom­ises made by the US which it can­not be ex­pected to honor.

Some of the more op­ti­mistic ob­servers have noted that even though Trump has de­cided to pull the US out of the Paris Agree­ment, the pro­ce­dures spec­i­fied in the deal will make it im­pos­si­ble for the US to exit be­fore late 2020, by which time the next US pres­i­den­tial elec­tions will have been held.

But what Trump can do and, in fact, has al­ready started do­ing is ig­nore the Paris Agree­ment, be­cause the com­mit­ments made un­der it are vol­un­tary and, there­fore, not bind­ing. The US can ratchet up its use of fos­sil fu­els in an at­tempt to re-in­dus­tri­al­ize its so-called rust belt (whether or not that is a plau­si­ble strat­egy), it can step up prospect­ing for oil or shale and it can emit as much green­house gases as it wants, while nom­i­nally still be­ing a part of the Paris Agree­ment.

So apart from in­creased emis­sions, we should not be sur­prised if the US’ con­tri­bu­tions un­der the Paris Agree­ment falls to zero or very close to it — that’s what Trump has promised and has been in­di­cated by the gen­eral bud­getary drift, which in­cludes dras­tic cuts in for­eign aid and al­lot­ments to the of­fice of the sec­re­tary of state.

All of this adds up to the in­escapable fact that any con­certed global ac­tion against cli­mate change must be de­signed and un­der­taken fac­tor­ing out the US at least for the next four years or so. This con­junc­ture, then, af­fords us a very real op­por­tu­nity to ask a very im­por­tant question: With the US, un­for­tu­nately, out of the way, should the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity, led by China and In­dia, re­visit the ba­sic prin­ci­ples un­der­ly­ing the Ky­oto Pro­to­col — com­mon but dif­fer­en­ti­ated re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, his­toric li­a­bil­i­ties, bind­ing obli­ga­tions?

All of this adds up to the in­escapable fact that any con­certed global ac­tion against cli­mate change must be de­signed and un­der­taken fac­tor­ing out the US at least for the next four years or so.

The au­thor is a se­nior jour­nal­ist and in­de­pen­dent researcher based in In­dia.

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