As Paris pact turns five, climate change is the new cold war

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL December 7, 2020

Weather, global warming and climate change, according to NASA

This is the week the Paris Climate Agreement marks its fifth birthday. December 12 is the big day.

In its young life, the Paris deal has had some hairy moments.

Most importantly, Donald Trump pulled out America, the world’s second largest emitter of greenhouse gases. There were fears that other countries would follow but that didn’t happen.

There were also fears that America would pollute more and more and with impunity, but that didn’t happen either. In fact, the lack of non-federal action and intention under Mr Trump has served as little more than an irritation and an indication of the administration’s selfish ignorance.

Truth be told, disparate states, cities and private businesses across America have worked harder than ever before to curb their carbon footprint (almost as if the US were still officially within the Paris deal). As a consequence,  a 2019 report by a consortium of environmental groups and former state leaders indicated that US emissions could be reduced by up to 37 per cent by 2030 compared to 2005 levels. Were the US federal government to join in too, once Joe Biden is in the White House, the reduction in carbon emissions could rise to nearly 50 per cent.

In some ways, the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Paris pact has unwittingly been a force for good.

It compelled state- and city-level actors across America to take more responsibility for greening their patch.

And it triggered other noteworthy geopolitical developments.

In the past five years, Europe has started pushing harder to lead the world on climate policy.

And ChinaSouth Korea and Japan are set to be the enlightened green heart of energy-guzzling Asia, leaving coal-hooked India way behind.

Axios quotes former US diplomat Jonathan Pershing to say that the recent east Asian announcements were made in anticipation of Mr Biden’s presidency. That’s probably true because Mr Pershing worked on the Paris deal under President Barack Obama. He is, presumably, exceedingly well networked.

In any case, it would make sense for countries to seek to appeal to Mr Biden’s plans for a revolutionary green agenda.

Climate change is the new cold war. Like that long-running rivalry between the US and the Soviet Union and their respective allies, the climate battle is about two different sets of ideas and worldviews. And like the old cold war, it probably won’t be fought with weapons, just on the economic, political and propaganda fronts.