By Arnab Charaborty
While the Paris climate agreement has been considered one of the greatest achievements in the 26 years of climate diplomacy within the UNFCCC structure, the US departure from the agreement has left us doubting those claims.
However, before getting into the real issue at hand, it is important to clear that climate change politics has never been, even in its most ambitious projects, able to reach any conclusions which were meaningful in scientific terms for countering the problem of climate change as has been suggested by several scientific reports.
They have suggested that the sum total of the present “Nationally Determined Contributions” (NDCs) is not enough to reach the target, which is to prevent the global climate from reaching a tipping point beyond which it would allow the anthropogenic causes to irreversibly change the natural systems of the planet.
Therefore,it is to be understood that from a purely natural scientific point of view, the Paris Agreement has not been exactly a success. However, in terms of diplomacy such a level of policy co-ordination and cooperation had been the first of its kind. In fact, the nature of the crisis is such that it cannot be resolved to anything less. Therefore, in order to adapt to the changes that such a crisis can bring about, we will require similar levels of co-operation for survival.Although, there have been several developments which hint towards the virtual impossibility of such a proposition in an anarchic world order with pockets of unequal power concentration.
The US Departure
The grounds of the US departure according to the President of the States, were the terms that the previous administration had been unfair to the US. Also, because American East coast saw record snow fall. Definitely, Trump doesn’t realise the difference between weather and temperature. Moreover, he was definitely not aware of the Siberian Heat waves which were the cause of the melting of ice so deep that dead bodies from shallow graves had come up to the ground, leading to an Anthrax outbreak.
This precise point of fairness is most crucial and fascinating. While there happens to exist in international politics the principles of historical responsibilities, reparations, and specifically in environmental politics the principle of “The Polluter pays”, the Paris agreement had increasingly tried to distance itself from these seemingly controversial principles, at the insistence or more rightly as a consequence of the muscle flexing of the developed countries like USA itself. Although, the developed countries after the Paris Agreement were expected to take the “lead” in taking measures to mitigate this crisis, they were totally exempted of all historical/environmental responsibilities. In fact, they had the freedom to determine their own national goals. The only legally binding requirement was to show some degree of progression in policy after each IPCC stock every five years.
In this respect the world’s second largest carbon emitter’s exit from the climate agreement seems to be a result of narrow minded populism in favour of the fossil fuel industries in America. While the increase in the production of these industries will lead to increase in jobs, the reduction in the investment in the clean energy sector will lead to reduction in employment growth. Moreover, in this respect the experts have even claimed that the jobs in the clean energy sector could have turned out to be more sustainable compared to the fossil fuel industries, but Trump with his blatant disregard for logic and expertise has went on with his plan to withdraw from the Paris climate deal which apparently was stifling America’s prospects of economic growth.
China and India
While China and India happen to be the second and third largest emitters respectively, in terms of per-capita emissions, India and China rank much lower than the United States. So in terms of spreading the benefits of economic growth, China and India have a long way to go. Especially India, where the Inequality figures are also astounding in economic terms. Nevertheless, here too there is a contradiction when we try to set climate responsibility on a country by country basis. As no country is economically homogeneous even in terms of carbon emissions, none of them have any homogeneity. Therefore, to penalise or to privilege any given country over the other means to also penalise or privilege a group of people in each country unduly. Say for example, the homeless in America or the Billionaires of India or China.
Therefore, again the question of fairness arises. And it is in this respect with the present approach many experts say that absolute fairness is impossible to achieve, unless a system can be established which could adjudicate climate justice on an individual basis.
Nevertheless, such a thing is very unlikely to happen as the attempt to generate country wise statistics on unequal access to the global commons like the atmosphere, water sources etc would turn out be a political Pandora’s Box for most administrations.Thus making such a proposition very unlikely.
Many say that the US exit has done some harm to the credibility of the Paris agreement, in that respect, one can expect certain countries to tune down the scale of their contributions. Some countries like India and China, might make further outcries for differentiated privileges. Similar claims might be made by the smaller Island nations for support and reparations. Definitely, a lot of empty rhetoric as always, while scientists go on predicting the impending doom and large scale destructions globally.
On an optimistic note, – global temperature increase has allowed increase in vegetations in the upper Himalayan region, although it has been counteracted by forest fires caused by the climate change, yet such a figure looks good on paper whatever the ecological consequences of such a vegetation shift might be.
Arnab Chakrabarty studies Sociology at Jamia Millia Islamia. The views expressed are personal.