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Opinion Op Ed 23 Jun 2017 Can India stay true ...
The writer is a Mumbai-based freelance journalist

Can India stay true to the Paris climate pact?

Published Jun 23, 2017, 1:16 am IST
Updated Jun 23, 2017, 1:16 am IST
India will be allowed to double its coal production by 2020.
The Paris climate change agreement is different from earlier negotiations like the Kyoto Protocol as it has a “bottom-up” approach — a flexible framework that gives every country the leeway to meet the climate challenge as it sees fit, and not as imposed by the negotiations. (Photo: AFP/Representational Image)
 The Paris climate change agreement is different from earlier negotiations like the Kyoto Protocol as it has a “bottom-up” approach — a flexible framework that gives every country the leeway to meet the climate challenge as it sees fit, and not as imposed by the negotiations. (Photo: AFP/Representational Image)

With US President Donald Trump announcing earlier this month that the United States had decided to walk out of the Paris accord on climate, the world was stunned but by no means bowed down. By sending the message, Mr Trump has isolated his country, and the leadership of the Paris Agreement has passed onto China and the European Union. And the ability of the Trump administration to influence the outcome is limited by several large US cities and some key states vowing to stick to the Paris climate deal. 

Mr Trump had named China and India as the countries that stood to gain the most from the aborted agreement, contending that the countries would benefit from the relaxation in using coal. He further added that China will be allowed many coal plants, and India will be allowed to double its coal production by 2020, but not the US. At stake, he explains, are 70,000 jobs in the US. This is like inverting the argument for new energy sources because the shift to solar and wind energy will create many more jobs than will be lost in coal mines. 

 

India, for instance, has announced big plans for clean energy, proposing an addition of 175,000 MW for solar and wind capacity, more than enough to take care of any additional energy needs. The country uses 60 per cent of the coal extracted for power generation. Coal is a polluting source of energy, releasing more greenhouse gases than any other source and a major reason for climate change. This has to change. 

The Paris climate change agreement is different from earlier negotiations like the Kyoto Protocol as it has a “bottom-up” approach — a flexible framework that gives every country the leeway to meet the climate challenge as it sees fit, and not as imposed by the negotiations. 

 

With its emphasis on consensus-building, the Paris pact allows for voluntary and nationally-determined targets and specific climate goals are politically encouraged, rather than legally-bound. Indigenous production of solar cells in India is likely to suffer because Chinese manufacturers will cut prices further to get a greater share of the Indian market, as they lose part of the US market. 

Although the use of coal will probably increase, specially with the private sector making inroads into it at the cost of government-owned companies, the Indian initiative to concentrate on solar and wind power is more revolutionary than it seems. These sectors call for a completely different set of skills, mainly in the small-scale service sector, and will require several hundreds of thousands of people, including miners, to be retrained to fit into the new economy. There has not been enough emphasis in the Paris accord on the training for the new jobs, which will be necessary. 

 

China, being the factory of the world, has the dirtiest industry — steel — that shifted from economies such as Japan and the US largely because of environmental concerns. For China and India to rebalance their economies and to mitigate the loss in agriculture will require considerable investment. The Paris deal makes it possible by having a fund of $100 billion a year to help adjust to the change. 

Another relevant fact is that the role of government agencies will be limited in most instances. The private sector will take the lead by expanding its investment in “clean tech, low-carbon ventures” and innovative companies which pursue environmentally-sound corporate strategies and thus will play a greater role than governments. 

 

In the US, the former steel town of Pittsburgh joined 210 other cities representing 54 million Americans in pledging:  “We will intensify efforts to meet each of our cities’ current climate goals, push for new action to meet the 1.5 degrees Celsius target”. Additionally, 12 states representing 97 million Americans — 30 per cent of the population — have decided to continue their efforts to fight for lower greenhouse gas emissions despite what the US government does. 

But it is getting too late, and the target of stopping a rise in temperature beyond two degrees Celsius by the end of the century may be unattainable. According to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the emission cut targets in November 2016 will result in temperature rise by three degrees Celsius, which is above the preindustrial levels and far above the two degrees Celsius target of the Paris agreement. 

 

In addition, a study published in the reputed journal Nature in June 2016 observes that the current country pledges are insufficient to meet the Paris agreement goal of keeping the global temperature rise “well below two degrees Celsius”.

Many observers are not much worried about Mr Trump leaving the landmark accord but fear that his team might sabotage the progress. The vacuum in leadership left by the exit of the US requires a greater role for other countries. China and the EU, being the largest polluters, should form the new leadership. 

 

India too can play a major role but it must show that it is capable of such a vision, instead of being consumed by matters of Hindutva mobilisation. Having taken the initiative in shifting to clean energy technologies, it has the size and the market power to make a difference to the world as well as its own economy.

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