Join global plan

President Barrack Obama’s decision to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the US has attracted attention for many reasons.

 It was announced on Monday, three days before the World Environment Day, when the focus is on the need and steps to change the present climate change trends. Obama’s decision was an executive order under the Environmental Protection Rules, as Congress was not agreeable to the plan. In fact Congress had disapproved a legislation on similar lines in 2010. Obama had in his campaigns promised policy  measures to address climate change concerns, and the latest plan may be taken as part of the promise. It is the first time that the US, which is the world’s biggest polluter, is coming out with a unilateral plan. 

But the steps do not count much in substantial terms. The important part of the decision is that carbon dioxide emissions from coal plants will be reduced to 30 per cent of their 2005 levels by 2030. This may not amount to any sacrifice because the US is gradually shifting from coal to shale gas as a source of energy. The US  target is much below the global targets and does not compare well with the commitments of some individual countries even in Europe. The Kyoto Protocol considers 1990 as the base year for reductions. Adjusted for the base level of 1990, Obama’s target does not amount to any  significant reduction. Even then corporate  groups in the US have opposed it and it is certain that the plan will be challenged in courts. Therefore it is an open question whether the plan will be implemented in the near future.

What has been announced may be too little, too late. The US, which has not even accepted the Kyoto Protocol,  has been the worst impediment in the efforts to arrive at a global climate change treaty, and its objections were the most serious. The promise to cut a percentage of emissions is only one part of the developed countries’ responsibility. Mitigation efforts and financial and technological help to poor and developing countries are very important.

The present package has nothing about that. The one good point is that it may be considered as a positive  gesture by others. China, the second biggest emitter, has promised reduction of carbon emissions in the coming years, after the US made the announcement. But a global plan based on consensus is far away.

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