Do Not Impose Unfair Burden

 Hira Bahadur Thapa

 

The decision of the Trump administration on June 1 to pull out America from the Paris Accord on climate Change has surprised the world community albeit reaction to it has been mixed. As the world’s highest polluter emitting the largest quantity of greenhouse gases, its abandonment of the international agreement, a product of years of inter-governmental negotiations, becomes a subject of criticism.

Nevertheless, some commentators like Bjorn Lomborg, a visiting professor in Copenhagen Business School, have downplayed the US’s announcement of abandoning the international agreement, the reason being that Paris Accord itself does not intend to drastically lower the emissions level to conform to scientists’ prediction that global temperatures should not rise above 2 degree Celsius relative to pre-industrial level to save our planet.

Peter Singer, a Bioethics professor at Princeton University, quotes president Trump, “the bottom line is that Paris Accord is very unfair, at the highest level to the US” (Project Syndicate). This shows how the current US administration perceives the new treaty on climate change, to conclude which the Obama presidency worked so hard along with China in the years preceding December 2015, when Paris Climate Agreement was finally signed by all the UN members.

 

Evidence

 A lot of statistical evidence is available to disprove American government’s claim that they have been treated unfairly by the above agreement. The Princeton University professor presents data in his above mentioned opinion piece and thus argues that the US is disproportionately consuming fossil fuels that generate carbon dioxide emissions, leading to rising global temperatures resulting in climate change.

Even in making a comparative study of the newly industrialising countries like India, the US’s  contributions to the global emissions looks far unfair based on its population (5% of world’s population) emitting 15% of world’s greenhouse gases, where as India’s is 6% to carbon emissions globally with 17% of world’s population. There is no comparison on this front with a developing country like Nepal, which emits so low to global emissions level but is burdened with the consequences of rising temperatures.

There is no denying the fact that Nepal has started feeling the pains of increasing temperatures, including the erratic change in rainfall patterns affecting the paddy plantation in the monsoon season. At the mid-monsoon time in many regions of Nepal farmers are unable to plant rice due to insufficient rainfall. Unexpected heavy rain in winter has also become a pattern, which is not conducive to good harvest.

There are reports citing the weather experts that Nepal’s eastern region, which generally gets more rainfall than the western during monsoon is receiving less this year, which is unusual. Although detailed scientific studies on this issue are not available, there is the possibility that it may be due to the effect of climate change.

The climate science demonstrates that no country can remain immune from the impact of global warming regardless of whether that country has added emissions to the atmosphere. Judged from the principle of fairness it is obvious that Nepal and other less carbon emitting countries are the worst sufferers.

Those developed countries, which have been releasing large amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, should be required to shoulder the higher responsibility in cutting down the pollution level. This means that the US, as it has emitted the highest amount of greenhouse gases, should make deeper cuts than other countries. Being an industrialised nation and also having higher per capita rate of carbon emission, the US is continuing to emit more carbon dioxide even than other large emitters like China and India.

According to Peter Singer, the US should make dramatic cuts to its greenhouse gas emissions to bring down their emission level just to one third of what it is now. This sounds pragmatic taking into account three different principles like equal shares, need and historical requirements. It may be relevant to mention the commitment of the previous administration of president Obama to reduce its emissions by 27% relative to 2005, by 2025.

One of the arguments by president Trump to justify its decision to leave the Paris Accord has been that America would lose jobs and face higher unemployment because fossil fuel industries would be negatively impacted in fulfilling its emissions reduction commitments when the climate change agreement is fully implemented.

But Nobel laureate and economist Joseph E. Stiglitz in his Project Syndicate commentary explains how flawed the president’s argument of unemployment is. He elaborates that coal-mining jobs, where Trump fears increasing unemployment, overlooks the harsh conditions or health risks endemic in that industry. Moreover, technological advances are sure to reduce coal-mining jobs anyway.

It has been found from the reports of the Global High Commission on Carbon Prices that reductions in carbon emissions would result in an even stronger economy. The authors of this report claim that a tax for carbon emission can bring incentive to retrofit the world in future, to innovate in ways that reduce energy usage and emissions. Therefore, moving to green economy may bring about more income today and economic growth in future.

Defending the Paris Accord on Climate, Adair Turner, a commentator (Project Syndicate) and chairman of the Institute for New Economic Thinking presents statistics to substantiate his finding that technological revolution has transformed economies of electricity generation. He contends that within 15 years with the help of new technology we will be able to build energy systems in which 90% of electricity is generated by wind and solar plants.

The technological progress is unstoppable. Determined action by other Paris Accord signatories and companies to lower the emissions level may facilitate the path towards a low carbon economy, US’s withdrawal from the climate agreement nonetheless.

 

Obligations

Climate change poses an existential threat to us and there is no way that we can address this global problem without concerted efforts of the countries around the world. Given this fact we must not also overlook the developed countries’ recklessness, which has harmed many developing countries, including Nepal, should be asked to assume higher financial obligations to help tackle climate change.

Those which have polluted the environment more than others have no justification to impose unfair burden and should commit to deeper reductions in their emissions level and help the developing countries adapt to climate change and mitigate the adverse effects of the same.

 

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