Last Monday, the United States gave formal notice to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord exactly three years after the agreement came into force, as is required. It didn’t delay the pullout process even by a day, suggesting how keen President Donald Trump is to play no part in fighting climate change which, to many around the world, seems the most pressing issue of our times.
No matter how it performs in other spheres, America’s conduct on this count is as strong an indication as any that it will be playing a much diminished leadership role in the world context since it is absent where it matters.
Ironically, the US notice to the UN on abandoning the Paris agreement comes at a time when emission levels have kept rising and scientists predict dire consequences for the world — drought, extreme weather conditions and rise in sea levels, which would cause havoc in the least developed countries and in small island states — if the biggest emitters of Green House Gases — China, the US, the European Economic Area, and India (in descending order of magnitude) — do not step up to the plate.
In some quarters the hope has been expressed that since the American withdrawal will take effect one day after the result of the US presidential election will be declared in 2020, there is some chance that Washington may still remain in the fold.
This seems a wholly unrealistic proposition. Under a Republican president, the US had walked out of the Kyoto Protocol and under another Republican chief, it is abandoning the Paris accord. Besides, Mr Trump's policies have shown in the past three years that he is stepping on the gas in exploiting hydrocarbons as energy source for the US economy.
The world can do without a Democratic leader signing on climate agreements and his Republican successor rescinding them. Already, climate seems like a losing battle. The lead the international community expects from the most powerful nation in economy and technology is to be in the forefront of the fight on a long-term, sustained, basis. Switching on, switching off syndrome is worse than a botched strategy.
The Paris agreement — signed in 2016 — aimed to ensure that rise in global temperatures should be kept below two per cent of pre-industrial times. This could only be achieved by reducing the use of hydrocarbons (coal, gas, oil) as fuel. Aside from the emission mitigation, adaptation through greater use of renewable energy (solar, wind for example) and financing green technologies in the developing countries were also important aspects. A fund of US $100 billion annually up till 2030 was envisaged to establish green technologies. The US has not been a part of any of this, regrettably. Secretary of state Mike Pompeo has said that the Paris accord will impose “intolerable burdens” on the US economy.
China, the biggest emitter of carbon dioxide, and India at fourth place, also made pledges at Paris with the US under President Obama on board then, pledging to cut 28 per cent emission (of 2005 levels) by 2025. But they have done too little since, sheltering behind the argument of being developing countries....