Trump unwittingly had a good effect on climate debate. Then India baulked


Till recently, there was a discernible Donald Trump effect on the international community’s attempt to deal with global warming. His climate change-denier nihilism seemed to be forcing the world to greater unity. There was a moment when the world’s biggest polluters actually seemed to be playing on the same team.

We saw that moment last month (June 7 to be precise). India’s prime minister Narendra Modi announced – on a visit to Washington – an important step forward in the ratification of the Paris agreement to limit greenhouse gases.

For those who watch these things, it was pretty obvious that the world’s biggest emitters of greenhouse gases were racing to prevent Mr Trump from endangering the fragile unity on environmental protection if he won the American presidential election.

They wanted to prevent Mr Trump from rolling back some of the key environmental-protection agreements achieved in Paris last year. Mr Trump, it’s worth recalling, has promised to “cancel” the Paris climate agreement if elected. He has said he thinks climate change is a Chinese “hoax” and that California’s three-year drought doesn’t really exist; farmers’ agony would be over if water were simply released to them instead of trying to “protect a certain kind of three-inch fish.” (For the record, the fish referred to by Mr Trump is the minuscule Delta Smelt. It is found only in the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and is nearing extinction. Letting it die as a species would still not prevent the problems caused by California’s intensively water-intensive agriculture, combined with a prolonged drought.)

Anyway, back to the world’s unity on preventing Trump from fouling the fine atmosphere on global warming. Mr Modi’s stated promise that India would formally join the Paris agreement by the end of 2016 was a huge development. But now, India won’t do so because China blocked it from joining the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). India claims that joining the NSG was a precondition to getting on board with Paris.

What does this mean in real terms? Without India, it becomes far less likely that the Paris Agreement will come into full force this year, as hoped. For that to happen, 55 countries responsible for at least 55 per cent of global emissions had formally to join the Paris deal.

Barack Obama’s America, the world’s second-biggest polluter, is on board.

So too China, the biggest polluter.

India, which is in third place, has flip-flopped.

So the Paris agreement may not be a done deal before someone new gets behind that Oval Office desk. Had it come into force, no country would have been allowed to withdraw at least till 2020.

The Trump effect was simply stupendous – if short-lived.