‘India’s moment to show global leadership … Trump’s decision on Paris Accord created a leadership vacuum, it will be filled’
Prime Minister Narendra Modi reiterated in Europe that India will stick by its commitments on climate change after US President Donald Trump announced that US will withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord and accused India of getting unfair advantages from the agreement. Erik Solheim, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, spoke to Rohit E David on the impact of Trump’s decision, how many US states and companies are defying his decision and India’s role:
What’s your response to Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord?
President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement is obviously a major disappointment. It’s regrettable because the science is so clear and compelling and because there are countless reasons to act, and to act now. Fundamentally, it’s about being a global problem that threatens the future of our planet, our children and grandchildren. The Paris Agreement was presented by President Trump as a burden, and that’s not the case. We know that investing in renewable energy creates more jobs, better jobs and better paid jobs – and that’s already happening in the US. Fighting climate change means making an investment in global security – because global warming is also a driver of conflict, instability and terrorism that threatens many nations, including the United States.
What impact will it have globally?
I am convinced the Paris Agreement and broad climate action is unstoppable. President Trump’s decision has given us a new sense of urgency. It’s also created a leadership vacuum, but like all vacuums, it will be filled.
Can the world fight climate change without the US?
It will be tough, but it can be done. For example, China is moving very quickly into renewables and could well exceed its targets. We’re seeing a very positive dynamic in India too, where there is proof that clean energy can solve rural poverty and deliver greater energy security.
India must move ahead on this – not because it needs to make up for Washington’s withdrawal, but because low-carbon growth can lift millions out of poverty and improve public health. PM Modi said it would be a morally criminal act for the world not to do its part on climate change. That’s a very strong signal of support.
It’s also important to emphasise that while Washington is pulling out, the United States is not. We’ve seen incredible, perhaps unprecedented commitment from many US states, cities, big businesses and from the grassroots. California, for example, is the world’s sixth largest economy and a global leader on environmental protection. Ultimately, US firms and innovators like Microsoft, Apple, Tesla, Facebook and countless others understand that if they want to be ahead of the game and compete in a globalised economy, they need to lead the charge towards a low carbon future. They’ve made it clear that will not change.
Can the UN still hold countries together to ensure they fight against climate change?
The Paris Agreement and climate agenda are still in place, and we’ll continue to work with all willing parties to make progress.
President Trump said the US will no longer provide funding on climate change, and this is a major disappointment. But funds such as the Green Climate Fund will continue to operate and support countries to take action.
What role do you see for India in ensuring the climate deal stays?
This is India’s moment to show great global leadership. India needs to continue to do what it does best: innovate. India has a rich history of entrepreneurship and charting its own course. It’s the world’s largest democracy with a huge, vibrant civil society. By forging ahead with a shift to a greener and cleaner economy, it will be stronger and wealthier as a result.
Trump said that the Paris Accord is not tough enough on India and China. Why is India becoming a target?
It’s regrettable that climate action has been presented by President Trump as a kind of punitive transaction, because that’s simply not the case.
India has said that developed countries must deliver on pre-2020 promises on climate change. Your views?
Absolutely. We expect all nations to deliver on the commitments.
Are you satisfied by the way India has been tackling climate change?
India has turned a corner and stopped seeing climate action as a cost but rather a fast track to strong development. India’s private sector is also taking a leading role. If we look at the dynamism of the solar energy sector in India at the moment, it’s unrivalled.
Obviously, India has major challenges, especially in energy. But it also has the solutions at hand. India’s potential for action is huge, and I’m convinced it has the leadership and political will to unlock this potential.