The new era of protectionism, marked by the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord, will make things worse in the coming years. Unfortunately, the brunt of this will be faced by our future generations.
The new US President is flexing his muscles in an area of diplomacy which is mostly unfamiliar and alien to him. Not only will this adversely affect American interests, it will also jeopardise the global ‘common interests’ and international initiatives. As discussed by Milton Friedman, one can achieve both economic and political freedom through capitalism; nonetheless, it is never guaranteed that one is going to have equality of wealth of those on top of the ‘food chain’ of this capitalistic world.
The history of US’ relationships with global climate change initiatives starts with it being a signatory member of the Kyoto Protocol. However, it never ratified the protocol, due to the 1997 Byrd-Hagel Resolution, which disapproves of the US signing the Kyoto Protocol. Therefore, even though the Clinton administration signed the Kyoto Protocol in 1998, it was never presented before the US Senate for ratification.
In 2000, when George W Bush came to power, he initially acknowledged climate change as a very serious subject. However, he vehemently opposed the Kyoto Protocol, allegedly because of the ‘developed-developing’ hegemony. Later, it was found out that the Bush administration feared that it would jeopardise the vested interests of the US in the oil and coal industries – sectors which have had a powerful lobby (the so-called ‘fossil fuels lobby’) in the US administration.
In 2007, the Western Climate Initiative (WCI) was adopted by some American and Canadian states with the aim of developing a market-based program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, according to some observers, this was a mere ‘greenwash‘ designed to avoid committing to the Kyoto Protocol. Some watchdogs expressed concerns over why the WCI was set up in the state of Delaware as an anonymous shell company that would evade public scrutiny.
In the United Nations Climate Change Conference (the Copenhagen Summit) in 2009, it was observed for the first time that the US, under the leadership of Barack Obama, was actually reluctant to achieve a consensus to tackle climate change. He even said that the agreement would need to be built upon further, in the future. He said, “We’ve come a long way but we have much further to go.” Later, however, the documents leaked by Edward Snowden revealed that the US National Security Agency (NSA) had monitored communications between the countries, before and during the conference, in order to provide US negotiators with advance information about the positions of other parties at the conference.
To bridge the trust deficit created due to this leak of ‘classified information’, Barack Obama took the suo moto initiative of championing the Paris Summit in 2015. In effect, the Obama administration achieved a consensus with the 195 countries who signed the agreement and the 148 nations which ratified it.
Now, President Donald Trump, who doesn’t seem to believe in climate change at all and has previously described global warming as a ‘Chinese hoax‘, has pulled out from the Paris Climate Summit.
Parallels can be drawn with the Paris Peace Conference, 1919, where the then US President, Woodrow Wilson, championed the Treaty of Versailles, and resolved to establish the League of Nations. But, he failed to ratify this in the US Congress, due to opposition from the Republican leaders who feared that the League would commit the United States to an expansive organisation, thereby reducing the US’ ability to defend its own interests. Ultimately, the failure of the treaty (which aimed to reduce the growing international instability at that time) was one of the factors which led to World War II.
The Green Climate Fund (GCF) aims to mobilise $100 billion per year by 2020. The US has committed to donate $3 billion to the GCF,. The rest of the amount will be shared by other signatory countries and private non-state actors. However, the nations have pledged only $10.3 billion to the fund, so far. Moreover, as of 2016, the sharing amount constituted a negligible portion of US’ total GDP. So, Trump’s complaint that US will be facing huge economic losses is just farcical and a political excuse to evade the Paris Agreement.
The proposed budget cuts in the US State Department and the US Agency for International Development (USAID) programs will ultimately affect the critical regions of the world – some of which are highly unstable and others being on the brink of collapse. Budget cuts in the UN grants will significantly affect the most vulnerable parts of the world. After all, UN programmes and agencies are playing a crucial role in mitigating global issues like famines, pandemics, refugee crises, water crises, population control, women and child development programs, etc. Being the single largest contributor to the UN, this decision by the US will jeopardise the critical operations of various international agencies and will affect numerous lives, globally.
In the budget proposed for 2018, Trump has also announced a 18% cut in National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding and a 12% cut in Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) funding. These are the two premier health institutions working in the field of biomedical research and disease outbreak prevention programs. Not only are they beneficial for the US community, they have also been serving the global community by conducting path-breaking researches in the fields of HIV-AIDS, Alzheimer’s, cancer treatment, etc.
Ideally, all these decisions which are affecting the global discourse, should be met with a global outcry – something which has been very passive, lately.
The US paranoia with China and India, regarding the subject of climate change, is very much evident since the foundation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at the Rio Summit in 1992. The paranoia still continues – just as we heard in Trump’s recent statement about US’ departure from the Paris Climate Accord.
A few far-right Hindu nationalist organisations had prayed for his victory during the election, since he portrayed himself as a lone crusader against radical Islamic groups. Ever since his appointment, however, all these fringe groups have become dead-silent. People like Shalabh Kumar (founder of the Republican Hindu Coalition) were once convinced that President Donald Trump would ‘usher true Ram rajya’ . However, the fact is that there has been a catastrophic rise in hate crimes and xenophobia across the US, and many Indians have been targeted and victimised. The rise of Islamophobia and far-right white supremacist fringe groups are at an all-time-high, due to Trump’s vicious rhetoric, which he is still employing in his public speeches and tweets.
The restriction on H-1B visas and various other labour and immigration reforms will ultimately affect prospective Indian labourers and students who are aiming to pursue higher education in the US. Moreover, in his recent statement, Trump categorically focused on the trade deals that US has signed, till now. He said that he’ll re-examine all of them – and if necessary, he will re-negotiate. This should be a red alarm for a major trading partner like India.
Trump’s criticism notwithstanding, the current Indian administration has shown an unprecedented zeal to move towards green energy. The government has set up huge solar parks in Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Rajasthan, and is making huge investments to boost the use of LED and solar utility devices by subsidising them and making them affordable for all.
Many reports have been vocal about these efforts, but it is also true that coal production and setting up of new thermal power plants have also risen in the past few years. India is a comparatively poor country which is yet to achieve full electrification. Therefore, it has no other option but to rely on conventional and non-renewable sources to meet its enormous energy deficit.
It is unfair that highly-developed countries (like the US) continue to compare and blame countries like India and China, while ignoring their environmental efforts. After all, the carbon dioxide emissions per capita is much higher in the US than in India. Therefore, the onus should also be appropriated accordingly.