Now That Trump Has Taken The US Out Of The Paris Accord, What Are India’s Options?

Now That Trump Has Taken The US Out Of The Paris Accord, What Are India’s Options?

by Ashok Sajjanhar - Sunday, June 11, 2017 12:21 PM IST
That Trump Has Taken The US Out Of The Paris Accord, What Are India’s
Options?  Trump announces his decision for the US to pull out of the Paris climate agreement in the Rose Garden at the White House. (Win McNamee/GettyImages)
  • As the US becomes more isolationist, India should try to build a loose coalition of middle-power countries with similar interests to ensure that a multi-polar world emerges.

US President Donald Trump's announcement on 1 June 2017 from the Rose Garden lawns of the White House that the country would not adhere to the provisions of the Paris Agreement, entered into by 195 countries in 2015, did not come as a total surprise. This was one of the election promises made by him to his support base in the rust belt. He had also given ample indications of what his decision was likely to be during his recent visit to Europe for the G-7 Meeting. All the other six member states of G-7 grouping as well as the European Union urged him not to walk out of the pact. Even the Pope implored Trump to abide by the provisions of the agreement.

During the campaigning, Trump had termed ''climate change'' as a hoax perpetrated by China (he did not mention India at the time!) to steal jobs form America and make its industry uncompetitive. (He later said that it was a joke! This of course represents a very sophisticated and evolved sense of humour, which many were not able to appreciate!)

Several of Trump's actions over the last four months since taking over as President prove that he is not convinced about the reality of climate change. Some of these include the appointment of Scott Pruitt, a known climate change sceptic to the position of administrator of US Environmental Protection Agency and signing of an executive order reversing the clean power plan, which had required states to regulate power plants. This order undid a key part of former president Barack Obama administration's efforts to tackle global warming. Trump did this ostensibly ‘’to ensure American energy independence and protect American jobs.’’

Trump’s decision to dump the Paris Agreement means that the US will no longer be bound by commitments assumed under the deal to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, share climate friendly technologies with developing countries and contribute financial resources to enable them undertake measures to slow down or reduce their emissions and also to adapt to the impact of climate change, which has been taking place or is expected to occur in future.

In his outburst on 1 June 2017, Trump named India and China among key reasons for his decision to pull out of the agreement. He said that India would get ''billions and billions and billions'' of dollars for meeting its commitment under the Paris Agreement, and it along with China, would double its coal-fired power plants in the years to come, gaining a financial advantage over the US.

Trump’s decision to withdraw from the accord provoked anger and condemnation from world leaders and heads of industry. It drew strong criticism and opprobrium both within the US and abroad, with world and local leaders pledging their support for the accord regardless of Washington's withdrawal.

The unexpected fallout of Trump’s declaration was that all countries who were once sceptical and reluctant to join the agreement in 2015, because of its departure from the earlier achieved consensus on equity and Common But Differentiated Responsibility (CBDR) as enshrined in Rio and Kyoto Protocol, fell solidly behind the pact, reaffirming their determination and commitment to fully abide by the provisions of the agreement.

In all this drama which has been keeping countries around the world spell-bound, it would appear that it is not the environment or climate which could be the biggest loser. The biggest loser is likely to be the US as its leadership and credibility has got severely dented and eroded in front of the international community. This issue had presented itself as a critical opportunity for Trump to redeem his reputation and global standing. He has frittered it away to great damage to himself and his country. He will be a much diminished man on the international stage and will not be able to stride tall as his predecessors did. The biggest gainer could possibly be China as Trump has vacated space and created a vacuum for it to step into without any conflict or tussle. In hindsight, this decision will be seen as one of the historic blunders/turning points in the cataclysmic transformation in geo-politics of today.

India has declared at the highest level that it remains committed to the Paris Agreement regardless of what other countries do. Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his interactions with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Emmanuel Macron and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said that the Paris Climate Change Agreement is a shared legacy of the world and it will benefit future generations. He pledged to go “above and beyond” the accord to combat climate change. Writing on his official twitter account he said: “Paris Agreement reflects our duty towards protecting the Earth and our natural resources. For us, this is an article of faith.’’

Speaking at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum on 2 June, Modi said that India is committed to the Paris accord irrespective of the course chosen by other countries. Replying to a question, he quoted the ancient Indian texts - Vedas to say that harming the environment is a crime. Modi termed it as an “immoral and criminal act” to spoil the environment for future generations.

India also dismissed Trump’s charge that it signed the Paris climate accord to get billions of dollars from developed nations. Addressing a press conference on 5 June to delineate achievements of her ministry over the last one year, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj termed as ‘’completely untrue” the allegations that either India had succumbed to pressure to join the Paris Accord or it had joined because of greed. Swaraj rubbished Trump’s charge saying that “India signed the Paris agreement because of Indian culture and ethos and not under duress or out of greed.”

Trump has said the US would like to renegotiate the agreement so that it better caters to US interests. Several countries including Germany, France, Italy and others have stated that no renegotiation will take place and that the accord will stand as it is. Fresh negotiations could unravel the delicate compromise arrived at after often complex negotiations. India should also strongly oppose reopening the text.

Some analysts in India have stated that we should support Trump in renegotiation of the accord. This will help us to strengthen our ties with him and could give us benefits in other areas like H-1B visas, fight against terrorism emanating from Pakistan etc. I don't subscribe to this view. This will be seen as an opportunistic step and would strain India's relations with the rest of the world. India today stands on the threshold of leadership in several areas including protection of environment, economic development, opposing terrorism etc. We need support and cooperation of other countries to realise our objectives. Standing by the Paris Accord fulfils moral, ethical and pragmatic aspects of our foreign policy.

Moreover, Trump is a mercurial and unpredictable leader. We cannot be certain that he will recognise the favour being done to him if we were to support him on the renegotiation issue. He might get the mistaken impression that he has been able to cow down India with his bluster and has succeeded in forcing it to change its position. Nothing could be farther from the truth! Trump might hence try to use similar methods in future when issues of disagreement between India and the US crop up, as they are bound to in the coming years.

In addition, India should firmly communicate to the US Administration that all of India's commitments including generating 175 GW of renewable energy by 2022, producing 40 per cent of India's energy needs by renewable means by 2030, and increasing energy efficiency of the Indian economy by 33-35 per cent per unit of gross domestic product from the level in 2005, will be achieved on a voluntary basis. It appears likely that India will be able to achieve these targets well before 2030. It will be able to do much better if it received adequate financial assistance and technological support from the developed world.

India should continue to observe all provisions of the Paris Accord in letter and in spirit. Since it is a framework agreement, further negotiations to put flesh on the bones will need to be undertaken. It would be useful if the US is not a part of these negotiations. Otherwise commitments will get diluted to the lowest common denominator. India should try to include provisions for equity, CBDR, climate justice, transparency etc and also include the need to provide capital and technology by developed countries to developing ones.

Trump's decision has provided a unique opportunity to India to cement ties with countries like Germany, France, the UK, Japan, Italy, Russia, and Australia, and also with China, on jointly confronting challenges that have appeared before the international community. It was indeed serendipitous that Modi was travelling to four significant European nations when Trump made this announcement. Modi was able to reaffirm India’s commitment and leadership on this issue on global platforms. India should try to build a loose coalition of middle-power countries with similar interests to ensure that a multi-polar world emerges even as the US becomes more isolationist.

The author is a former Ambassador of India to Kazakhstan, Sweden and Latvia. He is currently President, Institute of Global Studies.”

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