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Weekly Column by Ravi Dutt Bajpai

Ravi Dutt Bajpai,  Weekly Column No. 1006/2014



When G-2 trumps G-20:  US-China Climate Change deal

 The Asia-Pacific region has hosted a very packed schedule of global summits that brought a galaxy of major global leaders to the region in the last two weeks. The crammed itinerary included the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in China, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit, the East Asia Summit (EAS) in Burma, and the G-20 Summit in Australia. Among all the host nations, Australia was the most enthusiastic towards organizing the G20 summitto showcase its regional eminence and its global standing to the assembled world leaders. It is relevant to highlight that the current Australian Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Abbott has been voted to power largely on two issues; one to stop the arrival of illegal immigrants and second to scrap the carbon pricing on greenhouse gas emission imposed by the previous government.Prime Minister Abbott has publicly ridiculed the science behind the climate change calculations and its impact on global warming. It is also significant to recollect that Prime Minister Abbott had publicly announced his desire to engage in a diplomatic tussle with Russian president Vladimir Putin. In fact Mr. Abbott had used a colorful metaphor of ‘shirtfronting’, implying brutal shoulder collision against your opponent’s chest in an extremely ruthless sport, known as the Australian Football. However, just prior to the inauguration of G20 meeting at Brisbane, the United States and China reached a climate change deal between them and committed to reducethe greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. Ironically Mr. Abbott himself was quite abruptly and rather ferociously‘shirtfronted‘,and that too by his own team.

 Like with so many other facets of global leadership, the United States and China take the top two positions as producers of greenhouse gases, followed by India as the third largest emitter nation. Coincidentally China and India had joined hands to subvert the climate control negotiations at Copenhagen summit in 2009. Therefore,it can be argued that India can empathize with Australia for being disowned by their one-timeallies. The United States has been enticing China to form a duopoly in managing international affairs and global governance by establishing an exclusive G2 or a group of two major powers.  China has been very cautious in assuming any high-profile role in the management of the global governance system; one to minimize the cost of sharing global governance administration and two to pursue its national interests rather than some grandiose ideals. However, the agreement between China and US on climate control mechanism is one of the most significant collaboration of these two countries and signals theinformal institutionalization of the G2.

 The US-China climate control deal may be viewed asminlateralism, the United States has agreed to relinquish its fixation with equivalent reduction in emissions with other major polluters and China has finally consented to decrease it’s green house gas emissions. At the most fundamental level this climate control deal binds the US to cut down its carbon emission by 26%-28% below its 2005 level in 2025 and requires China to peak its carbon emission by 2030. China will aim to increase the share of zero-emission energy sources to around 20% by 2030, which means that in 2030 China’s nuclear, wind, solar and other zero-emission generation capacity will exceed the production from all the coal-fired power plants that exist in China today.The US has also pledged $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund (GCF), a UN coordinated fund set up to help emerging economies curb their greenhouse gas emissions and develop alternatives to fossil fuel based energy resources. Next year Paris is hosting the global climate summit and should US-China deal proceed smoothly, there will be much greater pressure on economies like India, Australia, Russia and petro exporters like Saudi Arabia to make greater contributions towards climate control. Australia was caught unawares by the US-China climate deal; Australia may be indifferent towards America’s own greenhouse gas emission reduction targets but the fact that the United States in funding other countries to find replacement of Coal as energy source is injurious to Australian economic interests. Once the US-China climate pactwas announced, it was celebrated as the deal clincher and stole the thunder from down under and the G20 summit; Australia then struggled to untether economic development from climate change during the G20 deliberations.

 The US-China climate change deal may appear to be detrimental to India’s approach of favoring economic development over environmental concerns, but ultimately this deal may prove to be beneficial to Indian interests. Most significantly India and South Asia have witnessed some of the worst impacts of climate change. The rise of seal level, droughts, floods, infectious diseases, loss of life and livelihood has caused severe social-economic-human distress far beyond the GDP growth and economic costs alone. This climate deal envisages the US to reduce its per-capita emissions from 20 tons to 12 tons while allows China to increase its per-capita emissions from 8-9 tons to 12 tons. Currently,despite producing enormous amounts of greenhouse gases, India’s per person contribution amounts to 2 tons, a measure that offers India tremendous scope to negotiate for a bigger portion of the Green Climate Fund. India may seek easier and cheaper access to technologies, equipment and expertise in harnessing alternative energy sources, a move that will enable India to save massive outlay on imported fossil fuel. China has been planning to reduce its coal dependence, which may lead to a reduction in the import of Australian coal, in such a scenario India may be the savior of the Australian coal industry. In case India decides to vigorously pursue nuclear power, Australia should be equally happy to supply Uranium to India.  The Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott needs all the bonhomie fromIndia to withstand numerous international challenges like growing influence of China, international terrorism and the climate change deal. Australia took a very patronizing attitude towards India while negotiating the Uranium sale even after the endorsement of the US-India civil nuclear agreement. The Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, can surely send a thank you note to his predecessor Julia Gillard,for her decision to proceed with the Uranium salestoIndia.

( Ravi Dutt Bajpai is currently pursuing a Masters in International Relations at Deakin University, Melbourne. He is associated with the Institute for Post Colonial Studies in Melbourne and is a regular social and political commentator with the Hindi daily, Prabhat Khabar, published from Bihar and Jharkhand. With expertise on China, India and Australia in world/Asian politics, he is a regular commentator on Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) in Hindi in Australia. Email id:  bajpai.ravibajpai@gmail.com. )

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