Trump pulling out of Paris deal is not America's first blow to climate change

Member nations suffering the most must impose strict moral sanctions against Washington.

 |  4-minute read |   09-06-2017
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System Change, not climate change should be the norm for the United States. Arguably, the Paris agreement on climate change is not the best prescription to tackle climate change maladies, but it’s the best possible pathway agreed by all members through a multilateral process under the United Nations to address a global threat.

US president Donald Trump, true to his presidential campaign promise, has withdrawn from the 2015 Paris agreement. And the world went berserk post his decision. Had not 43rd president George W Bush also withdrawn from implementing the Kyoto Protocol in March 2001?

Was the world critically chaotic at the time as it is now? Not really. The fear of a Tomahawk Cruise Missile or the influential power of the paper-driving Benjamin Franklin (on the US dollar) or the absence of social media, as unruly as it is today, may have restricted such chaos.

paris_060917050040.jpgGermany, and arguably India and China are becoming leaders in climate change despite serious constraints on the domestic front. Photo: PTI

The broader question to be raised is not on the presidents’ hyperbolic attitude to climate change rather the political system of the US where such incidents occur. One President representing the country at a global forum took the lead in multilateral environmental negotiations to agree upon on something, and a successor president in office rejected the same.

Ridiculous as it may be, there is a battery of domestic and international experts supported by some or other form of US benevolence, relentlessly justifying both stands.

While the Nobel Peace Prize for vice-president Al Gore under the Clinton administration led to a breakthrough legal Kyoto Protocol in 1997, United States failed to ratify the same at home. The Bush administration, which came to power in 2000, withdrew officially from the pact.

A similar sequence of events is playing out with Trump having discarded the long battle the Obama administration had committed itself to. It is not about Republicans and Democrats, though many would argue along such lines. As always, it is the business as usual (BAU) for all. The UN secretary general suggested to move ahead beyond the US as the withdrawal would not change anything in Paris agreement!

With its impunity and immense influential power using Sama (alliance), Dama or Dana (award), Danda (Punishment) and Bheda (division) of "complete diplomacy", the US would keep justifying its position on climate change.

More than criticising Trump, the question should be raised against the oldest democracy’s overall political system — the so-called inefficient "separation of powers" among the White House and the Capitol Hill with checks and balances, which allows such cacophony.

Can the House and Senate override the abdication?

Despite knowing the fact that Trump's withdrawal from the Paris agreement is on the cards, the discussions unfolded gradually on individualistic accusation notes rather dispassionately rationalising the consequences upon the US. One group of opinion is scared about losing the leadership role of the US. Has the US been the leader in global environmental governance?

Manipulating the closed-door negotiations to protect own interests is not leadership when it comes to global governance. Leading this group of opinion is former secretary of state Joh Kerry, who was instrumental during the Paris deal. He has been lamenting that Trump’s "America First" has taken a self-destructive step that puts the US last and will "cost us (US) influence".

Germany, and arguably India and China are becoming leaders in climate change despite serious constraints on the domestic front. Earlier, during climate talks, India was being categorised as obstructionist by the same US for reaching any climate agreement. What should the US be called now?

Another opinion is demanding accountability from the world’s largest emitter to help reduce dependence on fossil fuels and extend financial support to other developing countries as agreed at Paris in 2015.

Nobody is really talking about making the US accountable for its flip-flop attitude or imposing any sanctions to punish it for its withdrawal from the global agreement. Had it been Indonesia or Tuvalu, there would have been an emergency Security Council meeting to release a statement for imposing series of economic sanctions.

This is an unequal world with unequal ethics and rule of law. Even though the Paris agreement is not a legally-binding accord, the member countries who are suffering the maximum impact of climate change must impose strict moral sanctions on the US.

Between the war cry of “Let’s make America Great Again” by president Trump and “Let’s Make Earth Great Again” by French president Emmanuel Macron, it is always "God Bless America!"

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Avilash Roul Avilash Roul

The writer works with IIT Madras as senior scientist.

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