Modi and Trump are different, but together they can make a difference

The second largest and the fourth largest emitter of the green house gases are standing in the cusp of the most critical decade of the 21st century when they meet on 24-25 Februrary 2020 when the world is on the cusp of   environmental havoc due to climate change, writes Rajendra Shende for South Asia Monitor

Rajendra Shende Feb 24, 2020
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The world today is witnessing a diplomatic upturn and reversal of history in more ways than one. 

The only  leader from the world’s largest functioning democracy who was denied a visa by the world’s oldest democracy was Narendra Modi. He created history, as per Wall Street Journal,  as the only person ever to be banned to travel to the United States of America for reasons related to the International Religious Freedom Act.

Narendra Modi, now as Prime Minister of  India, was invited by the very country that denied him the visa to address the joint meeting of the US Congress.  Having visited the USA with great festivity as Prime Minister almost every year of his tenure, Donald Trump is now arriving for the first time as the President of USA amid great enthusiasm and almost festive spirit.

India and USA have, since 2014, never  turned back on their very special relationship, never  closed  their eyes on the differences on trade and climate change. These cracks are getting  cemented  with  two elements: fight against  terrorism and the courage and determination of Modi, for which Trump likes Modi. 

India and the USA are different but still distinct. They are poles apart but still are pulled together; competing but still close.  "India is not treating USA well but I  like Modi" says Trump. "I am learning the art of deal from you", says Modi. 

Even before becoming Prime Minister, Modi has demonstrated his determination to fight climate change. His approach is through action and not through debates. He had actively proposed  a revolutionary strategy called ‘Convenient Action’ for tackling the inconvenient truth of climate change.

Modi, during his Gujarat tenure, has published a catalogue of case studies from Gujarat, some of them had become world famous, like floating solar panels on water canals that not only produced renewable energy but also reduced water evaporation. 

Even before becoming President in 2015, Trump the billionaire businessman was in total denial on climate change and called it a "hoax devised by the China". He stated that  there is no evidence that humans are responsible for climate change. He called for more drilling, fewer regulations and gave the approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada. 

Modi considers  action on climate change as an opportunity to change lifestyle and reorient it more towards respect of nature. Trump states that action on climate change is against the interest of the American workers' lifestyle.
 
Concurrent to Trump’s continuation of his presidential campaign with strong opposition to action on climate change, Modi supported 2015 Paris Climate Agreement with passionate commitment that included Nationally Determined Contributions ( NDCs) of  175 GW of solar  energy by 2022, enhancing the energy intensity (energy use per unit of GDP) and enlarging the carbon sink by extending the forest green  cover .
 
A strong believer that action to mitigate climate change would benefit the world, Modi, in one of the first speeches, made in the UN and USA after taking over as Prime Minister, stated , “International partnership must be at the centre of our efforts, whether it is development or combating climate change”. Modi later in 2015 launched the International Solar Alliance (ISA) with France that now has more than 120 countries as members. The USA has strongly  supported the ISA.

Trump after taking over as President Trump on June 1, 2017 announced official withdrawal of USA from the Paris Agreement. He declared that   the US would cease all participation in the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change mitigation and that he would prefer to renegotiate the Paris Agreement.

Modi has won the ‘ Champion of the Earth Award’ from United Nations in 2018 for his work on the environment before winning his second term as Prime Minister. Trump, in his campaign for a second term, has categorically declared that he will not change his stand on climate change, even though there are growing signs of extreme concerns that our planet is moving towards an apocalypse.

In the wake of such sharp differences Trump and Modi still like each other as is evident from their body language. There exactly lies the hope that Modi can make a difference in closing the gap of difference.

Both leaders are meeting sans serious agenda. Trump has reserved the trade deal for a later date. Major breakthrough in other serious issues like terrorism are not on the card.

The second largest and the fourth largest emitter of the green house gases are standing in the cusp of the most critical decade of the 21st century when they meet on 24-25 Februrary 2020 when the world is on the cusp of   environmental havoc due to climate change. Antarctica temperatures have reached near 20 degree centigrade, more than the temperature of New Delhi. Arctic temperatures had reached beyond 34 deg C in August 2019 

In reality, many would be taken aback to read, contrary to the public perception, the observation of international organisations of repute.  According to UN data,  USA’s emissions fell in 2019 by  12 percent as compared to 2005. Last year, in 2019, as per data released by International Energy Agency, USA's emission decreased by 2 per cent. And the coal consumption of USA has been decreasing over a decade mainly due to amazing progress in extracting natural gas. That helps USA to reduce emissions as well as air pollution. If this is not enough read this: 24 of 50 states of USA are determined to follow Paris climate agreement by reducing emissions by nearly 30 percent by 2025. California just last week  passed legislation for 100 percent zero carbon electricity by 2045.   American states, business and people are doing great efforts to meet the climate  obligations, irrespective whether they are in or out of Paris climate agreement.

India’s economy is still dependent on coal. But transition to gas is happening. Further,  India is the only country that has significant carbon tax on coal.   NASA has released a new study in 2019 that shows that India - the world’s second-most populous country - is  leading the increase in the greening of land. The effect comes mostly from ambitious tree-planting programs and intensive agriculture. Green cover is the CO2 sink, that India has pledged under the Paris Climate Agreement.

At the end of the two-day visit in Delhi,   Trump and Modi have unprecedented opportunity to declare by re-emphasising what Trump had already agreed in the G20 meeting in Japan with renewed but powerful wording that: “The United States and India are the world leaders in reducing emissions. We would develop and deploy innovative energy technologies and commit ourselves to the reduction in  emissions and provide for a cleaner environment".

(The writer is Chairman, TERRE Policy Centre and former Director UNEP. He can be contacted at shende.rajendra@gmail.com)