The United States of America has just informed the United Nations that it will be formally exiting the Paris Accord on limiting climate change. It was hardly a surprise considering the utter lack of importance its president attaches to what’s happening about us.
We have had data showing that we are well along the slippery path. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has found that there is a 95% certainty that human beings are responsible for global warming, that CO2 levels were the highest they have been in the past 800,000 years, that we are losing both ice cover and that sea levels would rise at the fastest rate they ever have over our lifetime.
Just this year we have had the most obvious reminder. A chunk of floating ice larger than Qatar has broken off from the Larsen C shelf in Antarctica. Thankfully, this ice was already on water, so the chunk will not raise sea levels, even as it melts. But we already have the Arctic ice sheet at its lowest since records began and even the glaciers on the Swiss alps are melting so much that they are revealing corpses that have remained hidden in the ice for so long.
But what do you do when the leader of the free world choses to live in a fantasy where moving back a half century is the preferred destination. For not only does his agenda include a move back to coal intensive energy sources, he also chooses to undo the global leadership that a succession of US presidents from both sides of the political spectrum have worked so assiduously towards.
What can we expect to happen next? Are we going to see the US put in more coal powered plants, while much of the third world is moving to cleaner power? Both China and India have agreed to the stringent goals of the Paris Accord that limit temperature increase to 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels, with the aim to bring it to 1.5-degrees above. And almost every industry leader in the US, including the entire software industry strongly supports Paris. Most of the states too follow, with states along both the western and eastern sea boards already having some of the toughest goals moving forward.
Will this move change the scene as far as automobiles are concerned? Will we see a scenario where cars in the US are allowed to pollute at higher levels than the stringent Euro and Japanese standards. Already companies are selling to the situation in markets like India and the GCC, where the local standards don’t call for Euro VI. But that’s about to change – for India has already declared that it will be skipping the entire stage V as it moves from BS IV (or Euro IV) to BS VI. In addition, the current government has also declared the lofty goal of taking road transport fully electric by 2030, something that European governments have handled by pushing back their goals to 2040.
It is surprising then that the only brand that seems to make a killing by offering an electric car is Tesla. Tesla also pushes solar tiles for rooftops and a supercharger station with a battery bank that can also power your home. Admittedly, at the moment the company is enjoying an investor fuelled run with moneybags looking way into the future for commercial return. Ironic then that US investors put a lot more credence in the green economy than their president does.
One approach that will quickly bring the US back into the fold is to use their negation of the accord to commercially exclude US businesses and industry from the green economy. It may buck WTO, but it has to be done. Yes, it is unfair to the companies that genuinely believe in the right path. But it is the only language Donald Trump understands. Costs for solar power have been dropping over the years, with Indian solar power producers quoting rates below Rs. 3 per kWh, lower in fact that conventional fossil fuelled plants are able to provide. It is the same trend that is bringing huge solar farms to the desert outside Dubai, with even Saudi Arabia envisioning a huge chunk of its power grid getting solar power by the end of this decade. If the US wants its fingers on the pulse of the global energy market, it will have to play ball. Will the Trump supporter have to give his SUV in the future? Maybe not, because by then they may anyway be electric.