Trump, May, Europe & Climate!

International haggling over climate change is being aggravated by a bellicose Donald Trump and Theresa May

By Sankar Ray

FOR those who visited the high altitude villages of Tokto and Asrang about a decade ago, the sight is pleasant: there are now terraces full or apple trees which, when the bear fruit, brings in a kind of colour and aroma the villagers had never experienced before. And they are told that this change has been ushered in by climate change.

The environmental problems of developing countries are not the side effects of excessive industrialisation but reflect the inadequacy of development. The rich countries may look upon development as the cause of environmental destruction, but to us, it is one of the primary means of improving the environment for the living or providing food, water, sanitation and shelter, of making the deserts green and the mountains habitable.

The words above have not been penned by this scribe but were of the former Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi at the UN Conference on Human Environment in Stockholm on June 14, 1972.

The last anti-US Prime Minister of India, albeit partially equivocal, expressed her concern for mankind genuinely, as the planet we live in has not changed in the direction she envisioned but turned for the worse in the 45 years in between for a majority of the seven and a half billion human beings inhabiting this world. 

They were and are guinea pigs of nearly a three-decade failed experience of neo-liberal globalisation by mega corps that played a hegemonic role in the drafting of the media-hyped Kyoto Protocol. 

Professor Barry Brook; Sir Hubert Wilkins, Chair (Professor) of Climate Change and Director of the University’s Research Institute for Climate Change & Sustainability; Professor Tim Flannery (Chair of the Copenhagen Climate Council, and Division of Environmental and Life Sciences, Macquarie University) and Nick Rowley (former adviser to British Prime Minister Tony Blair and now Director of Kinesis Pty Ltd, a climate change and sustainability consultancy company) who have been among staunch supporters of Kyoto Protocol wrote a letter jointly to the journal Nature a few years ago, defending Kyoto as ‘a valiant first attempt to tackle global carbon emissions’. 

Activists termed the letter as attuned to the mega corps whose religion is a rising trend of super profits. Brook and his co-signatories too admitted that the Protocol eludes ‘the international community and isn’t ‘enough to make a breakthrough with climate change’.

But as incorrigible optimists, they look forward to the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol by Australia, which “would rightly acknowledge that climate change is an international and non-partisan crisis”, but warned, “this step should not be seen as an end in itself”.

SUBDUED PESSIMISM

However, Professor Brook stated with subdued pessimism that Kyoto in its current form “is not enough to create the low-emissions transformation in the global economy that is required to tackle the climate problem successfully”. It was rather harsh to have concluded that those climate scientists sided with mega TNCs and financial megaliths as they snapped fingers at Kyoto’s inadequacies suggesting that “the harder and more vital job is building on it to achieve a more effective and adequate one”. 

The COP 23 might witness a standoff between USA and Europe, which will obviously have some common grounds to fight for

Nonetheless, these scientists took 20 years to realise that the Protocol was congenitally rickety, during the phase 2. And they admit the folly. “It takes 20 years for new technologies to get to market time we do not have. What we need are tools (such as a cost for carbon through market incentives and emissions trading) that facilitate rapid uptake of existing clean technologies,” the letter states, adding further, “The market is awash with investment funds   good policy is needed to unlock them.”

The Kyoto Protocol was adopted at the third Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, (COP 3) in Kyoto, Japan, on 11 December 1997. On paper, it shares the objective and institutions of the Convention, although there is a basic distinction between the two. The Convention encouraged industrialised countries to stabilise emissions of greenhouse gases but the Protocol commits them to do so. 

The detailed rules for its implementation were adopted at COP 7 in Marrakesh in 2001, and are called the ‘Marrakesh Accords’. It places a heavier burden on developed nations under the principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’. The Kyoto Protocol entered into force on 16 February 2005 and to date, 192 Parties have ratified the treaty. Leading the countries that didn’t do so is the USA. Environmentalists were shocked when signs of withdrawal were already manifest, with Canada quitting.

CONVENTIONAL PLATITUDE

The twenty-second session of the Conference of the Parties have taken place, and in practice, every one of them yielded nothing but a pious platitude. The ensuing one – COP 23 – scheduled to take place in Bonn, Germany, between 6 and 17 November this year once again has an optimistic tune, as the host government is formally committed to climate action in sync with the European consensus against recalcitrance in the main from the USA, Japan and Canada to agree to implement planned cut in carbon emission. 

The global temperatures have already risen 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) since 1880. The more, the adamancy of Washington to effectively agree to slash emission of carbon dioxide (CO2), the more remote the chances of reaching out at an adiabatic equilibrium. The goal of Paris is to keep temperatures well under another 1 degree Celsius by 2100. 

The Paris climate deal, inked by some 200 countries at the end of COP21 at Le Bourget, north of Paris around mid-December, 2015 was lauded as “historic,” “sweeping,” and “ambitious” anticipating the world into a post-fossil-fuel milieu with less-than-2°C-warming by 2020, but remains a will-o-the-wisp as the decisions are legally “non-binding.”

According to the UN estimate, the combined cut from national pledges made by rich countries, barring the US, is 16-23 per cent, But another scan by the Alliance of Small Island States, estimates this to drop at anywhere between 11 and 18 per cent, keeping in mind the US offer. Thus if industrialised countries offset large amounts of emissions, as expected, the rich countries might not have to make any emissions cuts at home. 

‘MIGRAINE’ TRUMP

The COP 23 is to witness a tough debate, meaning that the process of slow climate change continues to suffer from a weak pace, more so as there is no provision for setting up penalties within the framework of the agreement.

The 45th US President Donald Trump is openly against the commitment to climate change, having edged out all his predecessors beginning with Bill Clinton. Paul Hawken, the initiator of the Project Drawdown, that launches a direct attack on the increase of GHG, supports this point very cogently in an interview: “The United States has never been a leader in climate: not Obama, not Clinton, not the Bushes.

We tried to be, but the Kyoto Protocol and subsequent initiatives were shut down by Congress. We didn’t lose our leadership – because we never had it on the federal level. Germany is a leader, Europe is a leader, China now is a leader and understands it very well. Another reason is that these initiatives didn’t come from the federal government.

They came from the private sector – from individuals, nonprofits, and the business community. People aren’t going to change their behaviour because of the Trump administration. They’re not going to un-install their solar panels. They’re not going to stop saving money when it’s cheaper to have a solar panel than conventional utility rates.

I don’t think anything could have been better for the issue of global warming than the Trump presidency. It’s a gift, albeit a dangerous one, because his thinking and goals are unacceptable on every single level, and the majority understand that, and more and more people will.”

The Trump administration is unashamedly dedicated to coal and oil,, in contrast to the rest of the world investing in cutting-edge 21st-century technologies. China, on the contrary, “is spending $360 billion on renewables — mostly solar, with some wind and hydro — by 2020,” says Brandon Wu, US director of climate policy and campaigns for London-based ActionAid. 

The Chinese President Xi Jinping reasserted his commitment to the Paris Agreement and to a steady transition from the coal-fired power plants, which shroud the Chinese cities in smog. Sources affirm that China’s leadership and US fossil fuel retrenchment could freeze America out of clean energy international markets that will likely cost domestic jobs and global credibility.

Now the threatening point is Trump’s keenness on quitting the Paris Agreement – an eventuality that has thrown the European leaders into a nightmarish political migraine, which is why they have already embarked on a persuasive venture to convince the ultra-nationalist shah-en-shah of White House to remain in the Paris climate change agreement. 

Logically apprehensive of dire diplomatic consequences if the US withdraws, they are avoiding playing hardball, deliberately eschewing any mention of possible retaliation as western diplomats predict “domino effect”, prompting other countries to follow suit. A concerned official told Politico magazine: “We are trying to clarify that politically, legally, economically, it does make sense for the US to remain.” In other words, Washington dictates.

MAY BRAKES

But the EU leaders have to treat the British government cautiously on the issues of reduction of GHG and move towards a low-carbon future. after Brexit. British premier Theresa May, in her “what will Brexit mean” speech in March 2017 was completely mum about climate change, unlike her predecessor David Cameron, who in 2015 took pride in highlighting action to fight climate change as one of his government’s most notable achievements. 

The mission statement by the Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy revealed: “The department brings together responsibilities for business, industrial strategy, science, innovation, energy and climate change.” Even the rightwing Financial Times noted: “It is surely no coincidence that climate change is at the end of the sentence.”

Rather China, the largest polluting nation, spewing 8751.31 tonnes CO2 of a day, had the guts to call this a sabotage a couple of months before the Copenhagen meet in the first week of December 2009. 

Friends of the Earth International Chair Meena Raman said very aptly: “Around the world, millions of people are already suffering the effects of climate change. People outside the talks have sent a strong message demanding climate justice.

This message must no longer fall on deaf ears. We only have two years to build on this weak outcome and develop a just deal which ensures tough action from industrialised countries and assistance for people in the developing world.” The COP 23 will in all probability witness a standoff between the Trumpist USA and Europe which will obviously have some common grounds to fight for the world to breathe in. The anti-Trumpist forces are gaining strength too. Legal activism has scored well. 

For instance, Theresa May had to climb down to accede to a demand by NGO ClientEarth agreeing to publish a strategy to combat air pollution. The UK government published a revamped clean air plan that aims to cut high levels of nitrogen dioxide pollution, thus doing away with the politically toxic step of making drivers pay higher charges.

LEGAL STICKS

A brainchild of James Thornton, a Yale University-educated former Wall Street lawyer who decided to bring an American-style approach to legal activism to Europe, ClientEarth, based in the USA and set up in 2007, makes an unorthodox companion to the campaign-focused NGOs that litter the European lobbying landscape, and to the European tradition of using public protests to force government change.

ClientEarth’s backers granted it £6.6 million in 2015, including from the US-based McIntosh Foundation, the Netherlands-based Adessium Foundation and the European Climate Foundation, a grouping of 13 other foundations. The unorthodox approach of ClientEarth is working. Sixty ClientEarth lawyers across London, Brussels and Warsaw are taking numerous governments to task over their failures on air pollution, chemical regulations and transparency.

But there is a unity of approach between the USA, Japan and Canada on the one hand and Europe (including the UK) on the other hand climate-as-molecules and prices-as-natural-signals fused in the hybrid system of carbon trading, which proved to be one of the neoliberalism’s landmark innovations. 

Both the Kyoto Protocol’s carbon market and the EU ETS combined “bubble” and “offset” systems, allowing for the circulation of a huge variety of interchangeable tokens or units of pollution compensation. Climate market proponent, Pedro Moura Costa of Brazil’s Bolsa Verde, says the idea was to “transform environmental legislation into tradable instruments”. This is a deceptive transaction for millions of GHG-hit people. That is another but the real battle for social and economic transformation which is against the UNFCC.

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