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India and China Are Emerging as Climate Icons

Six months ago, America led the world’s push to solve climate change. Now it looks on as two reformed nations take its place.

Donald Trump is trying his best to ensure that America burns coal, whatever the implications to the planet. While that’s unpalatable for many U.S. citizens, the good news for the rest of the world is that money will continue to be spent on developing renewable energy, and carbon dioxide emissions will still fall—but it will be largely thanks to two unlikely climate saviors: India and China.

To be sure, neither of the two Asian nations have shied away from burning coal in the past. And India’s power minister, Piyush Goyal, recently suggested that his nation had little obligation to stop, arguing that “it’s America and the western world that has to first stop polluting.”

But now, it seems, both look like they could begin to outpace the U.S. on the climate front, at least by some metrics.

The Climate Action Tracker—an analysis carried out periodically by a consortium of nonprofits and consulting groups—suggests that China and India are actually on track to surpass their climate goals between now and 2030. China’s huge commitment to renewables and a push to burn less coal are undeniable; India’s success will depend on whether or not its commitment to abandoning coal power actually comes good.

America, meanwhile, is set to lose its climate mojo under President Trump. As the Washington Post points out, the only way that the current administration could meet U.S. commitments made as part of the Paris climate pact—to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by at least 26 percent below their 2005 levels by 2025—would be to stick by all the plans made by President Obama before he left office. Trump’s recent administrative orders make that unlikely, and the Climate Action Tracker suggests that if he succeeds in scrapping the Clean Power Plan, the country won't do any better than getting emissions to 7 percent below 2005 levels.

But, hey, buck up: the good news from the tracker is that the gains made by China and India will far outweigh a poor showing from the U.S. That surely serves to cement China’s new (and once frankly unbelievable) role as the planet's de facto leader in curbing climate change.

It's perhaps not surprising, then, that Reuters now reports that the British accountancy firm Ernst & Young believes China and India to be the two most attractive countries for renewable energy investment, with America dropping from first to third on the list. That suggests that the two nations may find a steady flow of money to help build out their clean energy capacities.

All eyes will now be on China and India to see if they succeed—and in particular India. While China has already demonstrated that it can grow its economy while also cutting CO2 emissions, it’s long been feared that India would insist on continuing to burn fossil fuels to prosper. If it can avoid doing so, surely so can other countries. And now, sadly, that reprimand applies equally to America, too.

(Read more: The Washington Post, Climate Action Tracker, Reuters, “Carbon Dioxide Emissions Are Flat for a Third Year Running, but the Economy Continues to Grow,” “Trump’s Rollback Paves the Way for a New Climate Leader,” “Exiting Paris Climate Accords Would Exact a Steep Global Cost”)

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Illustration by Rose Wong

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