Trump’s decision on Paris agreement will affect research in low-carbon technologies

The world is on course to fail to keep the global mean temperature of the earth under 2-degree Celsius.

By Syed Iqbal Hasnain

President Donald Trump (Courtesy of twitter)

SEATTLE, WA: The main goal of 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, signed by a record 195 countries, was to limit the increase of global mean temperature rise to well below 2 degree Celsius and make efforts to limit temperature increase to 1.5 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Beyond that point, scientists worry that catastrophic impacts of warming will become irreversible.

Since the dawn of industrial revolution, human activities have been responsible for almost all of the increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The largest source of greenhouse gas emissions from human activities is by burning fossil fuels for generating electricity for heating, manufacturing and transportation. The emissions from the US, China, India and the European Union coming into earth’s atmosphere are not tacked. Nonetheless, more than 60% of global emissions are generated by these countries, whereas the rest of the world together shares less than 40% of total emissions.

The Paris agreement has also set up a green climate fund under the United Nations. The aim of the fund is to support developing economies to adapt to climate change and innovate in low-emission energy technologies.

Now the immediate consequence of a US withdrawal from the agreement, which was announced by President Trump last week, is that the fund will be shorter by $3 billion as US contribution, which is a substantial amount. Make no mistake, it will definitely affect research in low-carbon technologies. Many US governors, mayors, congressmen and leaders of corporate giants such as Apple and Google, have criticized Trump’s withdrawal from the agreement and publicly reaffirmed their support to the the treaty, which calls for reducing 28 percent of US emissions by 2030.

Trump called the Paris agreement a “bad deal” for the US and said that it will hurt the American economy.

On the contrary, the green economy and a gradual transition from fossil fuels have opened up a huge global market, estimated to be $6 trillion by 2030, for renewable energy market, which includes wind and solar, electric cars, advanced batteries and other technologies.

The Modi government in India has also committed to achieve 40 percent of electricity capacity from non-fossil fuel sources by 2030. China is investing billions of dollars in low-carbon technology and has become the leader in low cost solar batteries for the global market.

There is flip side to the Paris agreement, which allows China to build hundreds of additional coal fired power plants to generate 1,100 gigawatts, which is three times coal fired capacity of the United States. China is also building 12 coal-fired power plants in Pakistan under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Under CPEC, China will invest around $33 billion for power plants, transmission lines, highways and modernizing Gwadar port.

Similarly, the Paris agreement allowed India to double its coal production by 2020 to boost its energy requirements. In India, where over 20 percent of the population lacks access to electricity, expansion of energy infrastructure has been seen as a crucial factor for human and economic development. Despite India’s intent to increase its non-fossil fuel generation to 40 percent, coal is widely used today and will continue to be used in future. India has plans to build nearly 370 coal-fired power plants. The planned construction of an additional 178 gigawatts would make it nearly impossible for India to meet its climate promises.

The United States, China and India are the three largest emitters of carbon dioxide in the world and only the United States has decreased its emissions from 2005 levels. By withdrawing from Paris climate agreement, President Trump has put three major global polluters on the same page. The consequences will be catastrophic on Tibetan Plateau, Karakoram and Himalayan glaciers. The great Himalayan ranges sit between the nations of India, China and Pakistan. Their coal-fired power plants will be the largest source of carbon-dioxide emissions and black carbon, or soot. Black carbon is not a gas; its damaging power comes from its absorption of heat.

The climate of Himalaya is not uniform and strongly influenced by the South Asian monsoon in the east and mid-latitude westerlies in the west. Evidence suggests that eastern Himalaya and Tibetan Plateau are warming, and this trend is more pronounced at higher elevations. Unprecedented amounts of absorbing aerosols like black carbon, or soot released by coal-fired power plants from China, India and Pakistan may have contributed in accelerated melting of snowpack and glaciers.

Now with the US decision to withdraw from the landmark treaty, the world is on course to fail to keep the global mean temperature of the earth under 2-degree Celsius.

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