This article first appeared as an op-ed in my column in the Indian Express.
As is now well known, President Donald Trump has fulfilled his promise to pull the US out of the Paris climate agreement. This “Trexit” had all the hallmarks of a scorched earth strategy. Trump bashed not only the agreement, calling it “less about the climate and more about other countries gaining a financial advantage”, he also singled out China and India as free-riders and the main advantage-seekers. Paris gives China licence to “build hundreds of additional coal plants” while India can “double its coal production by 2020”, he said. “We can’t build the plants, but they can, according to this agreement.” Trump also took a second swing at India by pulling out of a special fund set up by developed nations as part of the Paris agreement to finance investments in renewable energy by developing nations.
All this makes for an awkward prelude to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Washington — a pity, since the two headstrong heads of state have a lot in common. Diplomacy may demand that the climate kerfuffle be kept off the agenda. In the unlikely event that it does come up, though, here is a cheat sheet for the PM. First, Modi should understand the climate issue — that hoax “created by and for the Chinese” — the way Trump sees it. In the Trumpian worldview, there are two competing narratives: There is Paris, and all the effete things it stands for and then there is Coal Country, where men are men, and these men voted Trump into the presidency. The fact that there wasn’t a chorus line of cheering coal miners behind the president as he announced pulling the plug on Paris must have been an oversight on the part of some incompetent White House staffer.
Second, Modi has picked up a climate superhero swagger in his recent trip to Europe; he may need to keep that in check. It wouldn’t be politic to remind Trump about the fact that the US now joins a select club of Paris-boycotters, notably Syria and Nicaragua, and abandons another select club, that of Paris-beaters, notably China and India. The latter countries are poised to beat their own Paris emissions goals: China’s coal use has dropped for three years running and it has cancelled plans for a hundred new coal-fired plants; India’s proposed electricity plan could cover 57 per cent of its energy needs by renewables in 10 years. Third, Modi should know that beating Paris would not impress his Washington host. Trump would say that both China and India are projected to exceed their goals because their goals were too easy. Moreover, his biggest quarrel is with the idea that China and India can increase their emissions, while the…