With the possibility of Joe Biden becoming the next President of the USA, America’s return to the Paris Accord is expected. It’s not that the US has boycotted global climate agreements for the first time. Before Donald Trump’s withdrawal from Paris Accord, George Bush Jr. had boycotted Kyoto Protocol endorsed earlier by Bill Clinton. The seesaw in the American policy regarding the climate goes on, as the world continues to suffer from environmental degradation.
Biden, said during the election campaign in July, “I know that climate change is the challenge that will define our American future and I know meeting this challenge will be once-in-a-century opportunity to jolt new life into our economy, strengthen our global leadership and protect our planet for future generations”. After taking over charge in January 2021, there is little chance of the new President going back on his promise to the people. The election campaign further elaborates on the transition: President-elect Biden is leading the world to address the climate emergency and leading through the power of example. Biden knows how to stand with America’s allies, stand up to adversaries, and level with any world leader about what must be done. It is felt that he will not only recommit the US to the Paris Agreement on climate change but that he will go further than that. He is working to lead an effort to get every major country to ramp up the ambition of their domestic climate targets. He has promised net-zero emissions by 2050.
India it is expected to become a natural ally of the US in this respect. The Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his speech at the G-20 meet recently said that the climate change should not be treated in ‘silos’ but should be fought ‘holistically’. It is as important as fighting the pandemic. He mentioned that India has already exceeded the Paris Agreement target of saving 38 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. India’s alternative energy plans are ambitious. India already has 34.6 gigawatt of solar power and has an aim to have 100 gigawatt of solar capacity by 2022. Saudi Arabian and Singaporean companies are keen to construct solar-based plants in India. They have won the bids to build a 200 MW and a 400 MW solar power plant in India at the lowest solar power tariff of Rs. 2 per kilowatt hour (kWh) unit. The usual thermal power companies like Coal India has decided to invest Rs. 5650 crores by March 2024 to build 14 solar projects. All these are positive moves and are geared towards a better future.
But on the flip side, the present reality regarding environment in India is not very encouraging. Records show that the recent surge in Covid cases in Delhi and Haryana coincides with severe air pollution levels in the region. Reports reveal that air pollution has caused over 30 % deaths from heart and lung diseases in India in 2019. If in Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, the global death figure is 40%, in India it is 60 %. Fourteen Indian cities are among the 20 most polluted cities of the world, according to the portal IQAir. During winter, the overall contribution of agricultural burning is just 4%, but it can be as high as 58% on a bad day. The deadly PM 2.5 (particulate matter) comes mostly from agricultural burning and in India one-fourth of global deaths are linked to PM 2.5 exposure. Growing deforestation for constructing buildings is another grave concern.
So apart from becoming partners with the US in fighting climate change, the people in India need to be more aware of the dangers before us. Trump’s attitude – that the climate change threat is a hoax – is regressive. We, too, in India should not have to go to the courts to stop us from the excesses of our festivals that pollute the environment, especially water bodies.