Will Trump’s Climate Policies Retard Asia?


Donald Trump may achieve some short-term political objectives through his climate policies, but those policies have long-range risky impact, not only on the US, but also on European and Asian countries. It will have impact on the climate policies of the ruling elites in all countries, notably among the Asian governments, who are loyal to the US leadership and always seek for a US leading role in global affairs. Consequently, Trump’s policies may retard the measures of the governments in Asia to minimize global warming.

The poorest farmers in Southeast Asia, who survive on less than a US dollar a day, are the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, like drought, flood or pest outbreak, etc. Mongolia, is often experiencing a disaster called a dzud, extreme weather with heavy snow falls and temperatures below -40C. Last year, this disaster caused death to more than 1.1 million livestock and, consequently, hundreds of thousands of Mongolian herders became poverty-stricken.

In South Asian countries, including Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Malaysia, extreme weather patterns cause much longer dry periods with intense heat, devastating agriculture. A third of the population relies on agriculture for survival. Rainfall is also increasing. Studies revealed that a possible half-meter rise in the sea level in some areas of Thailand, would increase flood risk along the coast. Last year, Thailand was affected by one of the worst droughts in decades and rice farmers are suffering.

The civil war in Syria was really a result of competition over scarce resources, such as food and water, which caused a growing mass migration crisis, due to longer droughts and irregular rainfall in agricultural regions. People are at risk of losing their homes to sea-level rise, adding further to the migration of refugees. Frequent storms and cyclones are creating serious humanitarian crises.

Last year was the hottest year on record and it seriously endangered energy security in Asia. In the past 25 years, about 95% of deaths from natural disasters, which were caused by the increasing global temperatures, have occurred in developing nations. The largest numbers of vulnerable people living in low-lying areas are in nine Asian countries out of the 10 countries.

Water crisis is also threatening Asia. According to the UN World Water Development Report for 2016, more than 1.4 billion people are heavily water dependent, especially in agriculture-dominant Asia. The erratic monsoons and droughts caused heavy groundwater extraction for agriculture, resulting in serious water scarcity in many Asian countries. Over 70% of the world’s groundwater extraction is in Asia. By 2050, it was estimated that 3.4 billion people which was the projected combined population of India, China, Pakistan and Bangladesh – making up 40% of the world population, would be living in water-stressed areas, creating many internal and inter-state rivalries and conflicts. And, it is obvious that Asia has its unique history of territorial issues, religious and ethnic differences and makes it more volatile than most other regions.

Countries in Asia and the Pacific are already preparing their own defenses, such as creating safer places for displacement, etc, against environmental threats. China, Papua New Guinea and Viet Nam have relocated communities to avoid flood risks. Bangladesh, long accustomed to cyclones and extensive flooding, is creating resettlement areas for people displaced by river erosion. These measures would undoubtedly burden the governments with huge financial expenditures, causing in turn many hardships for the people.

In this Asian context, President Trump’s pledge to withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement and his recent executive order to halt the US government’s attempts to curb carbon dioxide emissions with the goal of encouraging American business are all setbacks for the cause of saving our planet from climate change. However, many countries, including China, promised to abide by the Paris agreement and have undertaken measures to reduce green house emissions.

India’s Energy Minister Piyush Goyal said: “When we ratified the Paris Agreement it was with full responsibility that India will meet its goals, irrespective of what happens in the rest of the world….” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said:”No matter how other countries’ policies on climate change, as a responsible large developing country, China’s resolve, aims and policy moves in dealing with climate change will not change.”

For a long period, the Asian countries argued for “climate justice,” which held that developed countries have an ethical responsibility to help the developing countries to prevent the climate effects. The US and other advanced countries rejected this contention and this caused deadlock to many negotiations on climate change issues. To some extent, the Paris accord resolved these differences. The Asian nations are struggling to cope with the problems over fulfilling the obligations imposed by the Paris accord. However, the US under the leadership of President Trump is backtracking from the negotiated agreement and betraying the cause of saving our planetary system from climate change disasters. It would only serve the economic interests of the global corporate coal, oil, and gas industries. So, in this terrain, the global working people have to continue to exert pressure on ruling elites to meet the challenge of climate change.

N. Gunasekaran is a political activist and writer based in Chennai, India.

From The Progressive Populist, May 1, 2017


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