The Hot Topic: US opts out of Paris Agreement
The US just quit the most ambitious climate agreement ever crafted. What does it mean for us?
The USA continues to hold a formidable position since the end of the second world war - the largest economy in the world with the strongest military power, the third-most populous country, and scarily enough, the nation with the most cultural and soft power abilities. With great power comes great responsibility, said a certain American superhero, and yet the President of the most powerful country in the world, in the face of an acute climate crisis, has begun preparations to exit the Paris Agreement, the most important climate agreement to have ever been crafted - setting a dangerous example.
The Paris Agreement is an agreement which, to this date, 187 countries have signed, agreeing to limit their carbon emissions and make concentrated efforts towards mitigating climate change. Countries which sign the Paris Agreement are agreeing to take actions that ensure that the average global temperature rise remains below two degrees Celsius, and ideally at 1.5 degree Celsius- which is the maximum we can afford without destroying the Earth completely. And the US is now preparing to opt out of this collective effort to contain the climate crisis. Let that sink in for a moment.
To put it into context, here are some things to know: this New York Times piece says that the United States is the biggest carbon polluter in history. While currently, China is the biggest carbon emitter in the world as its economy rapidly develops, its population is four times than that of the US, and so when you look at per-capita carbon emissions, the US again tops the list. Because the US is a highly developed country, responsible for a significant percentage of carbon emissions in the world, as well as a leading soft and hard power, you would think they have a higher obligation to lead the effort on climate change. And it all comes down to something simple - who the Americans have voted into power.
While the Obama administration led the country into the fight against the Climate Crisis, President Trump continues to deny the fact that climate change is real. What does that say to us, India, a country ranking third in the world for its global emissions, right behind the US and China? We are a country with an exploding population - a large section of which remains impoverished - and the most susceptible to the consequences of climate change. It tells us how good governance and climate-friendly policies are key in this battle.
The USA leaving the Paris Agreement, although it’s still not a done deal until November 2020 (the next presidential elections), puts the onus on the rest of the world that much more: we must do even more on our part if some others act irresponsibly. And there are governments doing just that.
Contrary to the USA’s example, New Zealand last week passed the Zero Carbon Bill, which commits that their net emissions by 2050 will be zero, completely in line with their pledge in the Paris Agreement, and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern declaring ‘New Zealand will find itself on the right side of history’. An easy way to understand this is that the amount of carbon they will generate by 2050 is the amount the atmosphere will be able to absorb with ease.
The Italian government declared last week that it will now be the first country in the world where it will be mandatory by law to study climate change in schools. It is a very encouraging mandate, considering that it will be the school-going children who will bear the worst effects of climate change. Switzerland too set a fine example last month when in the elections, the two Green parties made landmark gains in the Swiss parliament, garnering over twenty per cent of the vote, which is considered a glaring reflection on the topmost issues on the voters’ minds.
This at a time when a simple policy is speculated to be the reason behind Delhi’s deadly smog: according to this Vox report, in 2009 the Government of Punjab enacted a law to combat water shortage that changed the harvest cycle of rice, delaying it to late October. This gave farmers less time to prepare for the next season, as a consequence of which they started burning the stubble as a quick solution to make the farms ready for winter wheat.
Governance and policy might be the most impactful way to curb the Climate Crisis, and here is how we can be a part of it:
1. Research the green parties in your city and national assembly. Green parties are the ones which incorporate the environment at the centre of their manifesto. A great way to also do this is by following environment-centred news in India.
2. Take part in climate strikes! The main demand of the climate strikes is to get the leaders of the country to commit to policy-level changes. Institutions and corporations, in lieu of having a higher power, have higher responsibilities.
3. Activism is also now easy: petition platforms reach anyone with an internet connection, and ministers are forced to respond to these petitions.
We could also take a leaf out of the kids’ notebooks and just sue our government for stealing our future. Plain and simple.