REVENGE OF THE RICH
Trump's election reflects the anger of the rich who did not get richer. This inequity is also at the core of the climate change challenge
HAT DOES the ascension of Donald Trump to US presidency mean for climate change? Also, what does Trump mean for our inter-connected and by now highly globalised world? Let’s discuss climate change first. As my colleague Chandra Bhushan argues so forcefully in this issue (see ‘Why the US should quit the Paris Agreement’, p14), firstly, Trump is not the only climate denier in the US. All Republican nominees and even Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton avoided using the “C” word during the election campaign. But there is no doubt that President-elect Trump is of another shade of this grey. He denies climate change is happening, though recently he said to cnn that “humans have some connectivity” on climate change. He is certain that the US needs to dig more coal, build more power plants and do everything to ramp up production, which will increase greenhouse gas emissions. So, he is bad news for climate change.
But this is not new. As Chandra Bhushan says, the US has invariably made the multilateral world change rules; reconfigure agreements, mostly to reduce it to the lowest common denominator, all to get its participation. Then when the world has a weak, worthless and meaningless deal, it will walk out of it. All this while, its powerful civil society and media will hammer in the point that the world needs to be accommodating and pragmatic. “Our Congress will not accept” is the refrain, essentially arguing that theirs is the only democracy in the world or certainly the only one that matters.
This happened in 1992, when in Rio, after much “accommodation” the agreement to combat climate change was whittled down, targets were removed and there was no agreed action. All this was done to bring the US on board. But it walked out. Then came the Kyoto Protocol, the first and only framework for action to reduce emissions. Here again, in December 1997, when climate change proponents Bill Clinton and Al Gore were in office, the agreement was reduced to nothingness—the compliance clause was removed, cheap emission reduction and loopholes were included. All to bring the US on board. Once again, they rejected it. Then came Barack Obama and his welcome commitment to climate change actions. But what did the US do? It has made the world completely rewrite the climate agreement so that the targets, instead of being based on science and contribution of each country, are now based on voluntary action. Each country is allowed to set targets, based on what they can do and by when. It has led to weak action, which will not keep the Planet’s temperature rise below 2oC, forget the guardrail of 1.5oC. This was done to please the Americans who said they would never sign a global agreement that binds them to actions or targets. Paris fatally and fundamentally erased historical responsibility of countries and reduced equity to insignificance. This was done because the US said this was the redline—nothing on equitable rights to the common atmospheric space could be acceptable. Also, the Centre of Science and Environment’s analysis of US climate change action plan in the report, Capitan America, showed that even under Obama the proposals were business as usual.