[Editorial Analysis] Can the Biden-Harris team save the planet?

Mains Paper 2: International Relations
Prelims level: Paris Agreement
Mains level: Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests.


• After four years of egregious anti-environmental policies during the Trump years, climate change activists and the general public can breathe a sigh of relief now that the Biden-Harris team has taken office in the White House
• The new administration has been quick to rejoin the Paris Agreement on its very first day in office. Because the U.S. was once at the forefront of generating widespread awareness on climate change.
• To impose harsh restrictions on their carbon emissions without financial and technical support, protecting corporate interests at the expense of the global commons, and failing to acknowledge its own massive contribution to the climate crisis.

A brief history:

• In 1957, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, launched its First General Report on Climatology addressed to the Chief of the Weather Bureau, stating: “In consuming our fossil fuels at a prodigious rate, our civilization is conducting a grandiose scientific experiment”
• Producing reliable evidence of the relentless rise in anthropogenic greenhouse gases over subsequent decades.
• In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson’s Science Advisory Committee produced a report entitled “Restoring the Quality of our Environment”.
• Report pointed out rising concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere, attributed them principally to the burning of fossil fuels, and warned that these levels could increase further by 25% by 2000, leading to a 0.6oC to 4oC rise in average global temperature
• In 1979, a report of the National Research Council, noted that a doubling of atmospheric CO2 over pre-industrial levels could lead to global warming of about 3oC.

Corporate lobbies:

• The 1970s was characterised by the energy crisis, associated with the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries oil embargo, but the roles played by American banks, oil companies and dollar hegemony in precipitating the crisis are only now being unravelled.
• On 1988, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was established by the United Nations to provide the public scientific information on climate change
• The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change to address climate change was signed at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992.
• The Second Assessment Report of the IPCC (1995) reaffirmed a “discernible human influence on global climate. Other conservative organisations were simultaneously working to muddy the facts, pointing at red herrings in the science. All had direct or indirect links to the fossil fuel industry.
• This effectively prohibited the U.S. from ratifying the Kyoto Protocol and Paris Agreement which placed limits on the growth of emissions from rich countries.

India’s national climate action plans:

• The nationally determined contributions (NDCs), under the Paris Agreement set three major goals
• The Paris Agreement goal of keeping temperature increase to well below 2 degrees Celsius.
(a) Increase the share of non-fossil fuels to 40% of the total electricity generation capacity,
(b) To reduce the emission intensity of the economy by 33 to 35% by 2030 from 2005 level,
(c) To create additional carbon sink of 2.5 -3 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent through additional forest and tree cover.

• An analysis by Australia-based think tank Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) finds that India is likely to achieve its energy capacity and emissions intensity goals by 2020, that is a decade before the deadline of 2030 it set in its NDC.
• India’s thermal power capacity will be 226GW or 63% of India’s total of 360GW. At that pace, by the end of calendar 2019 the share of non-fossil fuel capacity is likely to exceed 40%.

Change in policies after USA Join Paris Agreement:

• Keeling curve emissions are more than 410 ppm in 2020, compared to 313 ppm when measurements began in 1958.
• The U.S.’s re-entry into the Paris Agreement may be by the stroke of a pen, regaining political legitimacy on climate requires the government to take responsibility in causing and aggravating the global climate crisis;
• The commit to technology and funds for poorer countries; take on bigger emission targets; not bend over for the fossil fuel lobby which funds Democrats and Republicans;
• The Clean up the role of lobbyists in climate regulatory and policy organizations within the U.S.; and recognize and break up elite networks that have benefited by sustaining climate myths.

Way Forward:

• While solar thermal power is beginning to gain recognition, the capacity of biomass gasification to replace oil and gas for producing not only transport fuels, petrochemicals and coking coals, is still largely unrecognized.
• India has made it clear that it is aware of that the world needs to do more and neither did it shy away from the idea of stepping up its own efforts.
• Investment in biomass-to-transport fuels technologies will not truly take off until the world’s decision-makers agree to link domestic fuel prices to the long term average price of coal, gas and oil in the international market.
• The new strategy has been formulated, and put in place by which between now and 2030 this pace is going to almost be doubled. This should help meet the goal.”
• The world has to limit warming to 1.5 degrees. To achieve that, it must halve human CO2 emissions by 2030 and bring them down to zero by 2055.
• It is therefore imperative that the world heeds the IPCC’s warning. But is replacing all fossil fuels by 2055 even remotely possible.

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