US pull-out a huge blow to smaller coun­tries

As it backs away from its cli­mate pledges, In­dia and China step up

The Star Early Edition - - NEWS -

AS THE US pulls back from its com­mit­ment to fight cli­mate change, the world’s two other big­gest pol­luters – In­dia and China – are sound­ing the alarm, but nei­ther coun­try is in a po­si­tion to fill the void left by Amer­i­can lead­er­ship, or to foot the bill.

Their vast pop­u­la­tions stand to lose dra­mat­i­cally from global warm­ing, and their lead­ers are al­ready tak­ing a stronger public stance against the threat posed by car­bon emis­sions in the form of ris­ing sea lev­els and cat­a­strophic weather pat­terns.

Both say they will hon­our their own com­mit­ments to the Paris ac­cord, and are en­cour­ag­ing other coun­tries to do the same. That sort of rhetor­i­cal lead­er­ship is very wel­come, ex­perts say, but nei­ther coun­try is in any po­si­tion to re­place the fi­nan­cial in­cen­tives the US had of­fered poorer na­tions.

Ear­lier this week, In­dian Prime Min­is­ter Narendra Modi, on a visit to Ber­lin, stood along­side Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel and said that fail­ing to act on cli­mate change was a “morally crim­i­nal act”.

And ear­lier this year, Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping called the 2015 cli­mate ac­cord in Paris “a hard-won achievement” and urged other sign­ers to stick to their pledges in­stead of walk­ing away – “as this is a re­spon­si­bil­ity we must as­sume for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions”.

Ex­perts said that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s with­drawal from the pact jeop­ar­dises fi­nanc­ing for mit­i­ga­tion and con­trol ef­forts by smaller na­tions and stokes fears that other coun­tries may aban­don their pledges to re­duce emis­sions along with the US.

It also dra­mat­i­cally un­der­mines the chances of fur­ther progress in years ahead: the com­mit­ments con­tained in the Paris ac­cord are not enough to pre­vent cat­a­strophic rises in global tem­per­a­tures, and much deeper emis­sions cuts would be needed.

The US with­drawal is bound to badly damage the ac­cord’s cred­i­bil­ity and the chances of keep­ing the rest of the world fo­cused on the tough choices ahead.

“It’s a body blow,” said Chan­dra Bhushan, deputy di­rec­tor of the Cen­tre for Sci­ence and En­vi­ron­ment in New Delhi.

“Peo­ple are putting on a brave face and say­ing it doesn’t mat­ter if the US with­draws from the Paris agree­ment. But it is built not only on cut­ting emis­sions, but fi­nance and tech­nol­ogy, and the US con­tri­bu­tion is about 20% of that.”

The US is the world’s sec­ond-largest emit­ter of green­house gases and had pledged in Paris to re­duce its emis­sions 26% to 28% be­low their 2005 lev­els by 2025.

The coun­try’s with­drawal will have a ma­jor im­pact on the agree­ment’s goal of keep­ing the warm­ing of the planet to be­low 2°C (3.6 de­grees Fahren­heit) of what it was in pre-in­dus­trial times, ex­perts say.

Trump, who has said cli­mate change is a “hoax” and that restric­tions are bad for the US econ­omy, has al­ready moved to roll back many Obama-era poli­cies such as clean power, ve­hi­cle emis­sion stan­dards and curbs on power plants.

China and In­dia had been slow to ad­dress the is­sue of global warm­ing – fear­ing it would hold back the pace of de­vel­op­ment. In In­dia for ex­am­ple, 240 mil­lion peo­ple re­main with­out elec­tric­ity. But ex­perts now pre­dict that China’s car­bon emis­sions will peak, and then be­gin to de­cline, sig­nif­i­cantly ear­lier than the coun­try’s 2030 tar­get, and the coun­try is in­vest­ing more in re­new­able en­ergy than any other na­tion in the world, pledg­ing a fur­ther $360 bil­lion (R4tr) by 2020.

“China will con­tinue to carry out innovation, green, open and shared de­vel­op­ment re­gard­less of how the other coun­tries’ po­si­tions are chang­ing, based on the in­her­ent needs of its own sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment,” Hua Chun­y­ing, a spokesper­son for the Min­istry of For­eign Af­fairs, said in a me­dia con­fer­ence this week in Beijing.

And now new en­ergy poli­cies in both na­tions are be­gin­ning to have a dis­cernible ef­fect, schol­ars say.

Slow­ing con­sump­tion in China and de­lay of con­struc­tion of new coal plants in In­dia will likely re­duce pro­jected global emis­sions by 2 bil­lion to 3 bil­lion tons by 2030, com­pared with fore­casts from last year, ac­cord­ing to a study re­leased in May by Cli­mate Ac­tion Tracker, an in­de­pen­dent mon­i­tor­ing group.

Mean­while, In­dia – which set a tar­get of in­creas­ing its re­new­able power ca­pac­ity to 175 gi­gawatts by 2022 – has ex­ceeded its tar­gets for wind power this fis­cal year and has made some strides in in­creas­ing its so­lar ca­pac­ity, ac­cord­ing to a study from the World Re­sources In­sti­tute. Re­cent low so­lar prices may make re­new­able power in­creas­ingly com­pet­i­tive, the study said.

In ad­di­tion, the coun­try is hold­ing off on the con­struc­tion of some new coal-fired power gen­er­at­ing plants be­cause the ex­tra ca­pac­ity may not be needed for now, ac­cord­ing to a new draft elec­tric­ity plan.

Piyush Goyal, In­dia’s en­ergy min­is­ter, said that In­dia re­mains com­mit­ted to its Paris pledge – no mat­ter what hap­pens in the rest of the world.

“We are not ad­dress­ing cli­mate change be­cause some­body told us to do it; it is an ar­ti­cle of faith for this gov­ern­ment,” Goyal said. “Sadly, the de­vel­oped world does not show the same com­mit­ment to ful­fil its prom­ises, which could help speed up the clean en­ergy rev­o­lu­tion.”

Yet nei­ther coun­try is will­ing to foot the bill for other coun­tries’ ef­forts to re­duce emis­sions, ex­perts say.

The US had pledged $3bn into a Green Cli­mate Fund to assist smaller coun­tries on their cli­mate change ini­tia­tives – $2bn of which has been can­celled by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Zhang Zhongx­i­ang, the di­rec­tor of the China Acad­emy of En­ergy, En­vi­ron­men­tal and In­dus­trial Eco­nom­ics and pro­fes­sor at Tian­jin Univer­sity, said China is more likely to take a role of a “co-op­er­a­tor” and a “pusher” rather than as­sum­ing the out-front lead­er­ship role the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion adopted, and may con­trib­ute fi­nan­cially in smaller ways – such as con­tribut­ing $20m to its SouthSouth Co-op­er­a­tion Fund to help smaller coun­tries.

The two coun­tries will likely fos­ter knowl­edge shar­ing with other na­tions, rather than cre­at­ing super funds, such as In­dia’s found­ing of In­ter­na­tional So­lar Al­liance – a knowl­edge plat­form for sun­rich coun­tries – with France in 2015, said Varad Pande, a for­mer ad­viser to In­dia’s En­vi­ron­ment Min­istry.

Yet nei­ther coun­try is will­ing to foot the bill for other coun­tries

IM­PACT: A woman ad­justs her mask be­fore walk­ing out­doors dur­ing a smog red alert in Beijing, China.

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