POINT OF VIEW: JAIRAM RAMESH ON PARIS AC­CORD

India Today - - INSIDE - by Jairam Ramesh Jairam Ramesh, for­mer en­vi­ron­ment min­is­ter, played a key role at the Copenhagen and Can­cun cli­mate change con­fer­ences, which laid the foun­da­tions of the Paris agree­ment

Seven years ago, Pres­i­dent Ge­orge Bush junked the Ky­oto Pro­to­col, which set nu­mer­i­cal tar­gets for in­dus­tri­alised coun­tries to cut emis­sions of green­house gases that con­trib­ute to global warm­ing. Now Pres­i­dent Donald Trump has aban­doned the Paris Ac­cord on cli­mate change, un­der which all coun­tries pledged vol­un­tary ac­tions to re­duce their con­tri­bu­tions to global warm­ing. He was be­ing pulled in three dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions—to not aban­don the ac­cord; to ‘re­pledge’ Amer­ica’s com­mit­ments at a lower level; to jet­ti­son the agree­ment. Of course, it would have been best had he taken the first route. But if he wanted Amer­ica to leave, bet­ter the third op­tion than the sec­ond. The idea that the Paris agree­ment gives a coun­try room to down­scale its am­bi­tion is bizarre and os­ten­si­bly flows from the fact that there is no text in the ac­cord ex­plic­itly pro­hibit­ing it. But if the US had taken this road, the Paris treaty would have been de­stroyed. At least now it sur­vives, though se­ri­ously wounded.

The Ky­oto ar­chi­tec­ture was ‘top down’ while the Paris ac­cord was ‘bot­tom up’ in the sense that it al­lows each coun­try to de­fine its own ob­jec­tives and path­way. Both ap­proaches have been re­jected by the Amer­i­cans. But there are some coun­ter­vail­ing forces at work in the US it­self. Many in­flu­en­tial busi­ness fig­ures have openly sup­ported the Paris agree­ment. A num­ber of Amer­i­can states and cities have an­nounced they will go ahead with their plans for de­car­bon­i­sa­tion. For­tu­nately, Pres­i­dent Trump has also not said any­thing about the US re­ject­ing the global agree­ment reached last year in Rwanda to phase down the use of hy­droflu­o­ro­car­bons whose global warm­ing po­ten­tial is more po­tent than that of car­bon diox­ide.

But there is no doubt that with Pres­i­dent Trump’s de­ci­sion, the po­lit­i­cal, in­tel­lec­tual and moral lead­er­ship will no longer be that of the US. It is a colos­sal mis­for­tune that the coun­try that has been his­tor­i­cally the world’s largest emit­ter of green­house gases and is cur­rently the world’s sec­ond largest emit­ter will no longer be sub­ject to any ‘rules of the game’, how­ever loose and legally non-bind­ing they may be. The world’s largest emit­ter China may well step into the breach based on its ag­gres­sive do­mes­tic ac­tions to curb pol­lu­tion and emis­sions. It is a great op­por­tu­nity for In­dia as well, pro­vided we get rid of the mind­set that our ac­tions should be pred­i­cated on global fi­nance and easy ac­cess to tech­nol­ogy. In­dia also can­not give ser­mons glob­ally while be­ing eco­log­i­cally in­sen­si­tive at home.

In­dia has mul­ti­ple vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties to cli­mate change—in­flu­ence on the mon­soon, in­crease in fre­quency of ex­treme weather-re­lated events, the rise in mean sea lev­els along a 7,000 km coast­line, the re­treat of most Hi­malayan glaciers, the im­pact of de­for­esta­tion for which com­pen­satory af­foresta­tion is re­ally no so­lu­tion, etc. What we do has to be dic­tated pri­mar­ily by do­mes­tic im­per­a­tives and con­cerns. By 2030, we may well be the sec­ond largest emit­ter of green­house gases (es­pe­cially if US ac­tion stalls even in a post-Trump era) though in per capita terms, thanks to our ever-grow­ing pop­u­la­tion, we would still be at a far lower level com­pared to the US, China and the Euro­pean Union. But that is small con­so­la­tion.

In­dia’s National Ac­tion Plan for Cli­mate Change was first un­veiled in June 2008. It has since been up­dated and taken for­ward. Rapidly fall­ing costs of so­lar power are lead­ing to im­pres­sive ad­di­tions to ca­pac­ity. But we must chase not just ‘gi­gawatts’ as we are do­ing now but also look at the enor­mous po­ten­tial for ‘kilo­watts’ that can bring about a so­cial trans­for­ma­tion through de­cen­tralised generation and dis­tri­bu­tion. Pro­tec­tion and re­gen­er­a­tion of nat­u­ral forests will be es­sen­tial. We must also start think­ing se­ri­ously of a pos­si­ble plateau­ing of coal con­sump­tion some­time into the next decade even as ‘cleaner’ coal tech­nolo­gies are de­ployed in power generation. Nu­clear ex­pan­sion with indige­nous heavy wa­ter re­ac­tors is now in­evitable. En­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tions and laws must be en­forced ruth­lessly. And while Pres­i­dent Obama kept us en­gaged for seven years, we must now re­cip­ro­cate and en­gage the US at var­i­ous lev­els be­cause with­out its par­tic­i­pa­tion, global goals to con­trol global warm­ing can­not be achieved.

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