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By Shankar Raj

The decision of the Trump administration to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement on climate change is a big blow to the move to protect the earth for future generations. The Trump administration formally notified the United Nations on Monday (Nov 4) that it is pulling out of the agreement.

This means that global climate leaders and diplomats would have to chalk out a plan to move forward on climate change without the cooperation of the US, the world’s largest economy.

The US gave its reasons. Announcing the withdrawal on Twitter, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the accord would impose intolerable burdens on the American economy.

“The U.S. approach incorporates the reality of the global energy mix and uses all energy sources and technologies cleanly and efficiently, including fossils fuels, nuclear energy, and renewable energy,”  Pompeo said.

President Trump believed that the accord would cripple growth in the US and intrude on American sovereignty.

The US move will trigger changes in the plan on climate change. To restart the accord without the US will witness a shift in diplomatic strategy that will require other major polluters like China and India to step up their efforts. China, now the largest emitter of planet-warming pollutants, has made significant promises but Beijing’s ability to deliver is still in question.

China will have to make major compromises as its industries are the major polluting centres. Shutting them down will hit the economy and lead to unemployment – something that China would like to avoid in the light of a major trade war with the US.

India too will have problems as it fights issues like stubble burning in the northern states of Punjab and Haryana.

But under United Nations rules, China and India are considered developing countries and are not obligated to curb emissions. They agreed to do work on curbing pollution as the United States was taking action. With the United States out, other industrialised nations will have to put extra diplomatic efforts on India and China.

Last year, the European Union pledged to provide millions of dollars to aid Chinese emissions-control efforts. But so far China has resisted moves to speed up its initial emissions-control targets, which foresee greenhouse gas emissions rising until 2030.

Some nations are now considering punitive measures. France and Germany this year proposed a European carbon tax to impose on countries with less stringent climate protection policies. But any European tax on goods imported from the US would trigger trade tensions with the Trump administration. Europe has been threatening such a tax for years and, so far, has not followed through. But now there may be a re-think.

Will Trump’s move to pull out of the accord trigger a domino effect? While no other nation has followed Trump’s footsteps, few are toughening their stand of emissions-reduction targets. Without pressure from the US, nations may become bold. But Trump administration’s antagonism toward climate action could dampen future ambitions.

Though the US has decided to pull out of the agreement, environmentalists are pressing states, cities and businesses to cut emissions and move to renewable energy sources like solar and wind power.  One heartening feature is the hundreds of local governments and businesses have made emissions pledges under a movement called We Are Still In. This shows that Americans are behind the Paris Agreement even if the administration is not.

Though a welcome move, Trump’s stand will jeopardise the future of our planet.

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