After scores of Donald Trump’s misadventures, obviously the clean up challenge for President Biden is huge; the issue of utmost priority after combating Covid however is the climate strategy. Though the president has immediately signed an executive order of rejoining the U.S into the 2015 Paris agreement-an accord among the nations to reduce their carbon emissions to check global warming. United States was not in agreement of this accord under Trump regime which was an irresponsible roll back and affected the global climate change policy in whole lot of ways since Donald Trump (the fossil fuel lover) rolled back about hundred climate and environment regulations. Bidens’s rejoining the agreement reflects that the United States is willing to practically demonstrate that it is no longer the part of the global climate problem and rather will be the part of the solution. The world though hopes to see the United State’s and China’s shift from energy dominance politics to climate and green energy priority.
While the President Biden seems quite serious on the issue as he has already started working at some basic tangible things towards climate sensitivity like his efforts to stop the Keystone XL Pipeline construction from Canada into the United states to stop importing tar sand oil (one of the dirtiest pollutants) to begin with; however there are many more challenges like the huge economics of climate policy and targets set be that by the Paris Summit in 2015, or by Obama administration (to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by between 26 and 28 per cent from 2005 levels by 2025), India and China targets (2030), targets set by the Biden Regime (too long 2050-a 2 trillion dollar plan) and ensuing monitoring and accountability of the climate waywardness that increased during the last four years in fact a lot of time was wasted during the Trump regime which proved a climate denier and treated climate science and global warming like no issues (a hoax as Trump called it).
Perhaps more than this, it is the United States which should have an impact on global climate policy given the world’s biggest polluters like China setting a flexible and quite prolonged target of zero net carbon emission up to 2060 (and is yet to begin with but harps on starting carbon trading system soon) and other irresponsible states who need to be made more conscious on climate strategy. US can play the role to convert Paris accord from a non-binding to a globally binding agreement (to stop five year target gimmicks which are hardly met) with all seriousness but first it has to reduce its domestic carbon emissions in proportion to its population (still the second biggest polluter) to be able to pressurise other massive polluters to achieve the net zero emission within a decade or so but what is needed is swift action and decisive policies including USA’s quick transition to clean energy and realise net zero emissions even before 2050 as aspired, which gives a legitimacy to other big polluters to set the deadlines of their choice. The fact remains that if USA and China set their zero emission targets decades from now, how can the rest of the world take carbon emission cut seriously and this has to be set as an agenda before the UN’s upcoming Glasgow climate summit to be held in November where targets for next decade will be set by the member states.
The climate strategy has to be treated as an existential issue rather than made a new tool to get into tricky businesses or starting the politics of fines for massive carbon production. World has to move beyond the ideas of carbon pricing or the new tricks of buying the right to pollute from others who have a lower carbon footprint. By this logic world’s historical polluter (USA) and biggest polluter (China) will think more about pollution business (industry) rather than climate change seriousness. While the whole world is rightly pinning hopes upon the President Biden (though his climate plan is solid) to act tough on global warming, I think it is incomplete without a global appeal to Chinese President Xi Jinping equally to bring more practicality to carbon emission reduction. The two big polluters are morally duty bound to heal the climate first domestically (charity begins at home) while taking all the world leaders on board to address the alarming environmental crisis and manage its huge cost.
Also the politics of weak and strong climate policies of different countries has to go and carbon emissions have to be globally restrictive and target-promises by big polluters have to be redefined to realise climate-resilient societies. Promises can’t be made and prolonged for decades together; will the climate devastation or rising global temperatures wait till the promises are met? There has to be a powerful global watchdog for this which has to have an ability to monitor states from within otherwise fudged figures (like Covid) of carbon reduction will be the another disaster. It is noteworthy to mention that the Paris accord has already emphasised upon the verification; monitoring and public reporting of the progress in emission reduction targets of member states which needs to be practically adopted by making a regulating authority rather than the politics and delaying tactics of setting flexible targets, what they call INDCs (intended nationally determined contributions). Moreover any immediate climate overhauls are not profitable therefore there have to be considerations and incentives especially for poorer nations for developing the renewable energy infrastructure to touch net zero emission as earlier as possible.
It is not a time to think locally and act globally or vice versa but thinking globally and acting globally is the only way for President Biden since only local thinking or only globally acting without checking the domestic mess too impacts the outer world adversely and results as well. Will Biden take China, India and other massively populated and powerful states into confidence to work for climate and green energy in unison for better targets, remains to be seen? It has to be an inclusive effort and the world powers should look for clean alternative energy resources, carbon capturing technologies while helping the poorer nations to adopt such technologies and sources besides looking for more feasible scientific innovations to deal with the mismanaged plastic waste (which the rich outsource to poor). Lastly, the question is have the targets of Paris accord been achieved in its five years rolling deadline in 2020? Has the accord been able to limit the global temperatures’ increase between 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius since it is set to surpass 3°C by the end of the century? Despite the Covid lockdown globally healing climate and reduced global emissions by seven percent (7%) as per UNEP’s 2020 emissions gap report, why global warming still seems like an out of control calamity? Should the world adopt some serious climate agreement beyond Paris Accord, remains to be seen? Is completely clean energy even possible to achieve net zero carbon emissions globally? How much capital will such a massive energy transition need and who will provide that is also a puzzle? How is climate research doing globally today while some places are facing an existential threat due to sea level rise? Is anybody beyond President Biden really paying any heed to climate activists and their genuine and scientific worries since they are mostly arrested, tortured and harassed in many counties? Can carbon or other green house gases be captured directly from air to reduce pollution? Is environmental and sustainability studies (ENS) as academic disciplines given the space it deserves in our curriculum be it at school level or above? There are endless questions without immediate satisfactory answers.
(Dr. Adfer Shah, a Delhi based Sociologist and George Greenia Research Fellow works in Jamia Millia Islamia.)