India and China can fight climate change without the US | opinion | Hindustan Times
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India and China can fight climate change without the US

Among the world’s biggest carbon emitters today, India and China are set to become leaders of clean energy growth in the future.

opinion Updated: Jun 01, 2017 15:10 IST
Chetan Chauhan
File photo of participants looking at a screen showing a world map with climate anomalies during the World Climate Change Conference 2015 (COP21) at Le Bourget, near Paris, France.
File photo of participants looking at a screen showing a world map with climate anomalies during the World Climate Change Conference 2015 (COP21) at Le Bourget, near Paris, France.(Reuters)

If President Donald Trump pulls the United States out of the Paris climate deal, he will be standing with only other two nations in the world — Syria and Nicaragua — who are not participating in the historic agreement signed in the winter of 2015.

The remaining 192 nations have joined hands to fight climate change, which harm the rich and the poor alike. That should be a reason for cheer.

The world’s biggest economy, on the other hand, has always shied from contributing to a greener world. In 1997, President Bill Clinton agreed to the Kyoto Protocol, which provided the first global mechanism to reduce carbon emissions. It then failed to get ratified by the Republican-dominated US Senate. Clinton’s successor, George W. Bush, wrote off the protocol completely.

What Trump is doing is not new.

The Kyoto Protocol without the US still enabled developing countries to grow in a more environmentally sustainable manner. India and China accounted for around two-thirds of the projects registered under Kyoto’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), a program for facilitating green economic development.

China became the world leader for producing solar and wind energy and for manufacturing the needed technology, stealing the thunder of the European nations that had pioneered the field. India received help building the Delhi metro and growing forests in Haryana, Andhra Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, and elsewhere.

Because of Kyoto, the emissions of India and China have been many times lower, and the world more generally has been cleaner. Rich countries, meanwhile, have been allowed to offset their own emissions by funding these clean energy initiatives.

Former president Barack Obama, who was among the most important contributors to the Paris negotations, wanted to target green energy in emerging markets by investing heavily in research on super energy-efficient appliances, hybrid vehicles and off-shore wind turbines. Trump is undoing this effort by cutting federal funds for clean energy research and investments.

The Paris accord included a promise that by 2020 developing countries would receive 100 billion dollars yearly to encourage green economic growth. Trump’s likely abandonment of the agreement imperils that hope. Still, the loss of American participation might be a blessing in disguise for the developing world.

As a part of the Paris climate deal, India assured the world that 40% of its capacity to generate energy would come from green sources by 2030. China’s plan sets a target of 20% renewable energy by 2030, which would require more than double the total green energy produced under India’s plan.

More emphasis on green power would mean more rural electrification and more jobs. In 2016, one-third of Indian households lacked electricity. The United Nations Environment Programme estimates that green power will create a million new jobs in India and will boost its exports through the sale of new commodities.

India already has the fourth biggest wind power capacity after China, the US and Germany. In May 2017, India’s solar power generation price for the first time dipped below that of traditional thermal, which should make the use of sun power more widespread in rural areas. Under the Goods and Service Tax to be enforced from July 1, electric cars will get a tax rate of only 12% while other cars will be taxed at 28%.

These proactive measures signal that India is unlikely to back Trump on climate change. According to media reports, Prime Minister Narendra Modi this week assured German Chancellor Angela Merkel that India will stick with the Paris agreement and contribute to mitigating climate change, provided it gets help from the developed world.

Former US president Barack Obama wanted to target this market by investing heavily in research on super energy efficient appliances, hybrid vehicles and off-shore wind turbines. But, Trump has undone his effort by cutting federal funding for clean energy research and the US would lose an opportunity to harness this flourishing market.

One result of Trump pulling out of the agreement would be additional negotiating strength for India and China. The rules of the Paris agreement still have to be finalised before 2018, two years before the deal becomes operational. But India and China account for one-fifth of the global population and make up the world’s biggest market for green energy: the other signatories cannot afford to lose them if they are to reach their target of keeping temperature rise within 2 degrees or less of pre-industrial levels by 2100.

Surely the climate-friendly community does not need the United States to make the planet cleaner.