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

Down to Earth - - COVER STORY - SU­NITA NARAIN

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.

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