US pull-out a huge blow to smaller countries
As it backs away from its climate pledges, India and China step up
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.