India, China spearheading climate action: UN environment chief

03 Jun 2017


India and China are at the forefront of climate action, showing strong leadership to combat climate change, and the decision by the US to withdraw from the Paris Agreement will not deter global efforts, says UN environment chief.

"The US decision to leave Paris in no way brings an end to this unstoppable effort. China, India, the European Union and others are already showing strong leadership. 190 nations are showing strong determination to work with them to protect this and future generations," UN Environment Programme (UNEP) executive director Erik Solheim said in a statement.

"The science on climate change is perfectly clear: we need more action, not less. This is a global challenge. Every nation has a responsibility to act and to act now," Solheim said in response to President Donald Trump's decision to take US out of the climate pact.

Solheim said there is concerted action by individual states, cities, the private sector and citizens and a single political decision will not derail this unparalleled effort. He also urged all parties to redouble their efforts and promised UNEP support to everyone willing to make a difference.

"Climate action is not a burden, but an unprecedented opportunity. Decreasing our dependence on fossil fuels will build more inclusive and robust economies. It will save millions of lives and slash the huge healthcare cost of pollution."

"Committing to climate action means helping countries like Iraq and Somalia on the front line of extremism and terrorism. It means helping coastal communities from Louisiana to the Solomon Islands," Solheim said.

It also means protecting food security and building stability to avoid adding yet more refugees to what is already an unprecedented global humanitarian crisis, he added.

The Paris Agreement, he said, is founded on clear evidence, solid science and incredible international collaboration. "It will put aside differences to tackle a common, monumental challenge. The reversal of damage to the ozone layer proves that such a global effort can succeed. Ultimately, this is an investment in our own survival that no-one can afford to abandon," he added.

India was late to ratify the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. India accepted the agreement on 2 October 2016, one month behind the US and China. But the country is 8 years ahead in meeting its climate obligations.

Prime Minister Modi had made it clear when the Paris Agreement was first broadly agreed to in 2015 that more developed countries needed to shoulder more responsibility for reducing carbon emissions.

"Democratic India must grow rapidly to meet the aspiration of 1.25 billion people, 300 million of whom are without access to energy," Modi had said at the time. But India's efforts at conserving nature has never been tied to other states meeting their targets.

India ranks as the third largest emitter of carbon dioxide in the world, behind only China and the United States. But, in per capita terms, it is just the 128th most polluting country in the world, between Anguilla and the Republic of Moldova.

Trump's decision to withdraw from the climate agreement drew strong criticism from both within the United States and outside.

United States now joins Syria and Nicaragua as the only nations not participating in the global agreement.

Members of The Elders, a group of independent leaders founded by South African President Nelson Mandela, condemned Trump's decision, saying US withdrawal does not mean the demise of the Paris Agreement, and urged other signatories to continue to respect its provisions.

"Climate change is the great existential threat of our time. The Paris Agreement was born out of effective multilateralism and a desire to find a cooperative solution to a global problem. No one country can dismantle the Agreement. While the US withdrawal weakens that international accord, it will not trigger its demise," chair of The Elders and former UN secretary general Kofi Annan said.

Mary Robinson, member of the group and former UN special envoy on climate change said the US "reneging on its commitment to the Paris Agreement renders it a rogue state on the international stage.

"But the Trump administration's withdrawal from the Paris agreement will not stop climate action in the United States. We encourage all actors in the US working to tackle climate change to stand their ground, share the benefits of their work and to keep making their voices heard," she said.

Democratic Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts, a member of the foreign relations committee and environment and public works committee, said with his decision, "Trump is breaking a promise to the world to combat climate change in order to keep an empty campaign promise to the coal industry.

"Withdrawal from the climate agreement is a betrayal of scientific fact, economic opportunity, and moral leadership. Turning our back on this agreement will be a disaster for America - for our businesses, for our health, and for our national security," he said.

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