Paris Climate Deal – Does USA Benefit from the Withdrawal?

Paris Climate Deal

Donald Trump was elected the President of the United States of America in 2016 and in the same year, the international word of the Oxford Dictionary was declared to be “Post-truth”. Post-truth is a situation in which emotional appeals take precedence over objective facts in the shaping of public opinion. Today, we live in an era of post-truth politics. The line between truth and lie, between violence and non-violence, between good and bad has become blurred.

There is no certainty in this modern world. This has been made evident most recently by the US withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord making it the only UNFCCC country not adhering to it, after Syria and Nicaragua announced their desire to join. The promise of a 28% cut in US emission of Greenhouse gases by 2025 and the pledge to contribute USD three billion to the Green Climate Fund made by the Obama administration in 2015 was quickly upturned in 2017 by the Trump administration. The main objective of the Accord was to hold the increase in global average temperature to well below 2° C above pre-industrial levels.

The popular argument in support of this move for withdrawal is that it puts an unfair amount of burden on the USA which has to overcompensate for the problems caused by the “poor” countries. According to Trump, the US contribution to the Green Climate Fund was paid out of its defence budget and this entire agreement is just a smart Chinese ploy to drain wealth out of the developed countries. He argues that countries like India and China have gotten away with fewer restrictions than the USA. He also feels that the withdrawal should be fairly simple because this treaty was never ratified by the Senate.

Unlike the Kyoto Protocol of 1997 which reduced the burden on developing countries, the emission targets for each nation were separately negotiated under the Paris Accord and these were voluntarily enforced. This made the Paris Accord an executive agreement rather than a legally binding one and hence, removed the requirement of ratification by the Senate. The US administration had voluntarily decided to take upon itself a larger share of the responsibility. Moreover, in 2015, the USA was the second largest emitter of carbon dioxide globally, second only to China. A very important role was played by the coal lobby in this decision making process. Most people know that 22 Republican Senators sent a two-page letter to Trump urging him to pull the country out of this accord but very few people know that most of these senators were elected from states reliant on fossil fuels. The 22 senators had together received more than $10 million from fossil fuel companies in three of the preceding election cycles. John Barrasso of Wyoming received $585,882 from coal, oil and gas companies while Mitch McConnell of Kentucky received a whopping $1,542,084.

The repercussions of this decision, as understood by many in the White House, are not only limited to the environmental damages. We live in a world where soft power plays an extremely important role. Once the USA gradually backs out of this agreement by 2020, China can emerge as the fountainhead of soft power in the world by taking up a leadership role in climate change issues. The Indian government has promised to keep its membership intact but it will be very difficult to achieve the goals without the aid that the USA was showering upon the developing countries till now. Having said all this, the move is not completely detrimental to the United States of America. An unsaid reason behind it may be to destroy the soft power that China already possesses. China committed itself to reach peak emissions only by 2030. Maybe President Trump hopes that in the process of taking the mantle of leadership after US withdrawal, China would take steps which would harm the construction of its Belt and road which is responsible for using large quantities of coal. Moreover, maybe Trump knows that the commitment made by Obama is too far-fetched, even for an economy like the USA and he believes that it is better to pull out than to fail when all other countries succeed in meeting the promised requirements.

It seems like the debate on the repercussions of this move will continue for a long time but it surely isn’t one sided.

– Contributed by Vinny

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