Sunday Editorial: Paris, President and the Planet

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Ever since last week, when President Trump announced his decision to withdraw from the Paris accords, Twitterverse has been swamped with news, analyses, and updates on the Paris agreement and the implications of his decisions. If you have been living away from the internet, humanity or just haven’t had the time, make this your Sunday brunch time read and get updated on this issue. Jayantika Soni, gives us some food for thought on Paris, the Planet, and the President.

On World Environment day, this year, President Trump backed out of the Paris Agreement in a move that strongly resonated with his “America first” campaign message. In the December 2015, a total 195 countries in the world came together to control their carbon emission to keep rising temperatures in check. A unique agreement where India and Pakistan, Israel and Palestine, South Korea and North Korea, and Russia and US (until last week) came together to fight for the planet. Countries across the world “voluntarily” agreed to keep the global temperature rise below 2-degree C from the pre-industrial level (before 1750 CE). Under the Paris Agreement, countries set their own targets to control carbon emissions, termed as intended nationally determined contributions(INDCs). Unlike previous agreements, the Paris agreement creates a culture of transparency and initiative in climate change politics, a sharp contrast to the distrust and policing culture prevalent in the past. It is not legally binding or punitive and yet the biggest polluter in the history of the world decided to back out of it, joining the only two countries, Nicaragua, and Syria, who did not sign it. The US has 4% of the world’s population which generates 15% of the world’s emission! The per capita emission of the US is more than twice of China and almost ten times that of India! Developed economies have prospered on the backbone of fossil fuels and have polluted the world in the last one and half century. The global temperature has risen to almost 0.8 Degree C in this time and resulted in human activity has driven climate change. This is one of the reasons Nicaragua didn’t sign the Paris agreement because it believed it was not strict enough on the rich countries. The President of the US wants to level the field in terms of obligation with India and China, even as the GDP per capita between the three nations is far from equal. The GDP per person in the US is almost 4 times of China, 9 times of India, and 143 times of Somalia. Despite this glaring disparity, India and China are on track to fulfilling their commitment to combat climate change and save the earth by canceling coal power plants and investing heavily in renewables. China has emerged as a leader in the realm of climate change in the aftermath of the Trump exit from the Paris agreement.

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The President of the US wants to level the field in terms of obligation with India and China, even as the GDP per capita between the three nations is far from equal. The GDP per person in the US is almost 4 times of China, 9 times of India, and 143 times of Somalia. Despite this glaring disparity, India and China are on track to fulfilling their commitment to combat climate change and save the earth by canceling coal power plants and investing heavily in renewables. China has emerged as a leader in the realm of climate change in the aftermath of the Trump exit from the Paris agreement. Last week, China established the world’s largest floating solar power plant with a capacity of 40 megawatts underlining its lead in governmental renewable energy R&D spending just last year. In addition, China has also signed multiple climate agreements including with California.

China “will stand by its responsibilities on climate change,” standing alongside the European Union as a bulwark of responsibility in a world buffeted by a White House vacillating on the most pressing issues, Mr. Li Keqiang, the Chinese premier said during a visit to Berlin last week.

Despite the allusions created by President Trump, investing and promoting fossil fuels is an economically unwise decision. To summarize a Rolling Stone article, Coal is dead like disco! With innovation and advances in technology producing electricity from renewable energy sources is comparable or cheaper than polluting fossil fuels. Clearly, renewables are the future, one that is poised to generate employment and prosperity for all of us. China already sees the potential and has promised to move away from coal and invest over $300 billion in renewables and create 13 million jobs. Many businesses also see high costs involved in fossil fuels, in exploration, emissions, and spillage. Indeed, Big oil firms like BP and Shell are strongly investing in renewables. CEOs of 30 major US companies wrote to their President not to back out of the Paris agreement warning of economic fallout. Publications across the US have declared the future of the Paris Climate agreement to be open ended in the face of American withdrawal in a prominent display of hubris. Indeed, The US has assumed the position of world leader for several decades now, but the absence of US federal leadership has been quickly filled in by strong political support from Chinese and European leaders, not to mention Mayors and Governors across the US.

Closer to home, What’s in store for Singapore?

Combined efforts from the government, industries and grassroots movements like ECO Singapore have created a positive culture about climate change awareness with a strong focus on conservation and mitigation strategies. For a detailed look at this issue read more here: What’s next for Singapore?

Jayantika Soni is a 4th year Ph.D. candidate at Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering at the National University of Singapore. Her research is focused on employing renewables in the modern power grid. Apart from renewable energy she is passionate about gender equality, photography, and traveling.