Whoever wins US Presidential election 2020, Earth is the loser

When climate change disappeared from election campaign


November 3, 2020

/ By / Pune

Whoever wins US Presidential election 2020, Earth is the loser

With the largest historical emitter United States walking out of the Paris Agreement, saving the planet from global warming and climate change has become a bigger challenge than ever before

Climate change and global warming were the surprise and unfortunate absentees from the months’ long presidential campaign as both President Donald Trump & Democrat challenger Joe Biden preferred to turn a blind eye to the elephant in the room.

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November 4 is poised to be the new Earth Day when the fierce race will come to a frightful end. Then will begin humanity’s race to save planet Earth. Many postal votes would still be in counting on that day, so also the prophesied views of the climate scientists, carbon emission trackers, disaster counting statisticians and environmental economists.

Whoever is the winner in the most closely watched elections in the world, the planet would be the loser. The margins of the defeat of planet would depend on who wins the American race. The first ever election in super-power nation that has been brought to its knee by the disguised sub-micro-sized super-spiked virus with its even smaller striking clubs as weapon, is poised to push the Earth in another pandemic called ‘Climate21’. Another ‘pandemic’ of much larger and deadlier proportions is in the offing. There will neither be water to wash hands nor vaccine to tackle that pandemic. Social distancing would be a far-fetched proposition as swarms of migrants would be moving to safer places by land and by boats over-crowded with poor from developing countries.

No country can isolate itself from the shackle of global epidemic like ‘Wuhan Virus Pandemic’. But an individual country can withdraw from the global agreements on climate change that are destined to be fatal.

The Paris Agreement was adopted in Paris global meeting of United Nations Framework Convention -UNFCCC-on Climate Change on 12 December 2015.  USA, China, India and more than 100 countries signed the agreement as soon as it was open for signature on April 22 2016. That showed the full support to the newly formulated agreement where all countries small or big, developed or developing took the pledge to limit the temperature rise to 2°C by reducing their national emissions as per the respective national time-schedule. Just signatures are not enough to make the UN agreement legally enforceable. It needs ratification by the country’s parliaments that represent people. India ratified on October 2, 2016, USA and China both ratified on the same day September 3, 2016. There was unprecedented symbolism in selecting the dates of ratification. India did it on Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary. USA and China synchronised ratification to show the solidarity of the world’s two largest emitters.

American ratification itself proved to be the end of the dream of ‘start of new climate action era’ as was professed by the world leaders in their acclamatory concluding speeches in Paris meeting in 2015. The reason was the very move of the then President Obama. For ratification he did not take congressional route. He issued an Executive Order. That later proved easier for the next President Donald Trump to cancel it. He did that promptly with another Presidential Executive Order.

Paris Climate Agreement, interestingly had already entered into the force on November 4, 2016 when conditions under Article 21 of that agreement were fulfilled, or the 30th day after the date on which at least 55 Parties to the Convention accounting in total for at least an estimated 55 pc of the total global greenhouse gas emissions have deposited their instruments of ratification.

Strikingly, Article 28 of the agreement also added the conditions for  the withdrawal by the country from the agreement that had already ratified the Protocol. Withdrawal is possible only after ‘three years from the date of entry into force’. Further, such withdrawal would be effective ‘upon expiry of one year from the date of receipt of the notification of the withdrawal’.

On November 4, 2019, the Trump administration notified the UN Secretary-General of its decision to withdraw from the agreement. This shall now take effect earliest on November 4, 2020. That is the date looming large now, though it is not the date on which new President will be sworn-in. That happens on January 20, 2021. The Americans and citizens of the world, particularly climate-enthusiasts watching the nail-biting outcome.

Will the outcome, either way, help changing  the climate? Let us look at the US emission scenario from 1997, when Kyoto Protocol of UNFCCC was adopted, till present. During these nearly 24 years, half of the time climate-friendly Democrat Presidents were in-charge  and remaining half, not-so-friendly Republican Presidents lead the nation.  Bill Clinton, who posed as climate-hero in Kyoto in 1997 was never able to get Kyoto Protocol ratified due to Congressional blockade. Even Al Gore, an ardent climate super-man could not move the ratification process .Finally Kyoto Protocol entered into force without USA in 2005. It was embarrassing for US, led by fiery and fervid climate-friendly President and Vice President, was singled out for its inaction for ratification. It is also not clear why Clinton did not try to get Executive Order or National Climate-Emergency Order for winning ratification.

The emission reduction that happened, due to technology changes, was found to be even better under Republican Presidents. George Bush Jr achieved emission reductions of 6 pc as against increase during Clinton’s presidency of 9 pc. During Obama’s terms, emission reduction achieved was 4.5 pc as against the Trump-era reduction of 4.6 pc. Obama’s presidency was marked by uncertainty of keeping US’s funding promises to the developing countries. Particularly in  Copenhagen Conference of Parties in 2009 where he had made a brief appearance, Obama could not make a firm commitment to the developing countries. Obama also showed weaker spine in case of rejecting Keystones XL pipe line from Canada. Instead of outright rejection, he decided to temporarily halt it but to continue to carry out  further investigation. Finally he used Executive Order to reject it, even though studies showed that emissions from implementing pipe-line would not make any difference. And, predictably Trump cancelled Obama’s Executive Order by another Executive Order of his own so that the pipeline project now goes ahead.

During Presidential debates, Joe Biden was equivocal on fracking, a technology that has made the US the largest producer of natural gas in the world and dramatically reduced the influence of oil and Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Fracking provides a breather for ever rising carbon emission against coal and oil. Biden had declared his opposition to fracking to win green voters, but denied that opposition in the Presidential debate. Biden has vowed to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement, though  it is not clear how long that would take, whether it would be another executive order or through congressional route. Trump is obsessed in stating that he is businessman and not politician. He is for making business deal. Obama on the other hand was fundamentally engrained in futuristic political talk about “a deal that could end up transforming this planet in a way that makes it very difficult for us to deal with all the other challenges that we may face”.

It is important to know that Trump never said that he was against a climate deal but he considers that Paris Climate Agreement in the present form is unfair and need to be renegotiated. World would be losing the critical time in renegotiations when a global disaster is already happening. Paris Agreement itself took longer time to negotiate. Countries had to amend the Kyoto Protocol through Doha Amendment and extend its life  to 2015 when Paris Agreement was adopted.

Trump’s business-like leadership unfortunately brings in China-India-factors in climate deal. China which has now become the largest emitter in the world continues to increase its  emission. Last month President Xi Jinping set a target of China becoming carbon neutral-net zero- by 2060. This, however,  appears challenging by any standard considering that China’s emission has increased 300 pc since  1997, when Kyoto Protocol was adopted and 6 pc since the Paris Agreement was adopted in 2015.

The world today is ‘lockdown’ in more ways than one. Lockdown is not only visible, but it is evident through dreadful terrorism, unashamed threats on territorial claims, brutal inequality, bullying trade wars as well as threats of nuclear missile attacks and most importantly ever-rising global temperature all have locked the civilization in spiral trajectory of global hazard without any sign of slowing down. And there is no vaccine for this pandemic and there will never be.

Whoever wins American presidency, Earth will continue to get warmer. It is already warmer by 1.1°C. The target of keeping warming below 1.5°C, therefore, is apparently impossible. The warming algorithm is already locked to go beyond 3.5°C rise. That would be the entry to unknown world of sixth extinction.


The author is chairman TERRE, IIT Alumnus and former director UNEP

(www.rajendrashende.com) (www.rajendrashende.blog)



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