A year after Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement

Americans protest President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change outside the White House in June 2017. PHOTO: ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP

By Saleemul Huq
Jun 6 2018 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

A year has passed since President Trump announced that the United States would formally withdraw from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. What has happened since has been a mixture of good and bad—but on the whole, more good than bad.

The obvious bad news was that the biggest and richest country was reneging on a commitment made by its president in Paris. This had several consequences, including the halting of the US pledge to provide funding for the Green Climate Fund (GCF) as part of the commitment of developed countries to provide USD 100 billion each year from 2020 onwards.

It also meant that the US federal government would not try to fulfil the commitments that it had made under President Obama to reduce its emissions of greenhouse gases.

However, the worst news is by far for the citizens of the US rather than for the rest of the world. This is the denial of the science and reality of human induced climate change by Trump and the head of the Environment Protection Agency (EPA). This has already had the effect of depriving US citizens of the protection from its own federal government to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change. The more than 4,000 deaths of US citizens in Puerto Rico attributable to Hurricane Maria are just one example.

In contrast, the good news is that many people in the US are not following or even supporting their president. There is a growing movement of Americans who say they are still in the Paris Agreement and will do their best to fulfil the US commitments made under President Obama.

For example, around 20 governors of states, led by Governor Jerry Brown of California, have declared their intentions to fulfil their obligations under the Paris Agreement. In fact, California (which by itself is the 7th largest economy in the world) will be hosting a global summit on climate change in September this year.

At the same time, Mayor De Blasio of New York is leading many dozens of mayors of cities who are committed to fulfilling their obligations as well. In fact, he has re-constituted President Obama’s Climate Change Experts Advisory Committee which Trump had dismissed as soon as he moved
into the White House. This committee is now based at Columbia University in New York and is being funded by both the city of New York and the Governor of the State of New York.

Another even more important change for the better is the market driven shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy across the US even in states under Republican governors. This, despite efforts by Trump to subsidise the coal industry. No one wants to invest in coal any more.

At the international level the major reaction to the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement was to rally everyone else to redouble their commitment. Thus, for example, President Macron of France offered to make up the financial contribution of the US in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) while other developed countries have promised to make up the US deficit of USD 100 billion per year from 2020 onwards.

Another important indicator of US’ isolation on this issue is the fact that not a single country joined the US in withdrawing from the Paris Agreement (unlike when they withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol with Australia by their side).

Perhaps the biggest shift that has taken place, which is not necessarily directly attributable to Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, is the inexorable global shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy driven by a combination of technological advances in wind and solar energy efficiency, along with improved electricity storage capacity (which allows the intermittency problem to be solved).

Countries like China and India are in the forefront of this revolution in energy systems and are likely to be the winners in the 21st-century race to a post-fossil fuel world leaving the US behind and 20th-century technologies.

Finally, while it is important to acknowledge that the decision of Trump to officially withdraw from the Paris Agreement is not a good development for the world, nevertheless, the fact that the rest of the world, and indeed even the people in the US, don’t agree with him is the ultimate good news.

One of the most important, but under-appreciated elements of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change is that while it required the leaders of all countries to come to an agreement first, the implementation of the agreement does not necessarily need those leaders anymore. Anyone and everyone can do his or her own part to implement the agreement without permission from political leaders.

In less than a year of President Trump’s withdrawal, this fact has become abundantly clear.

Saleemul Huq is Director, International Centre for Climate Change and Development at the Independent University, Bangladesh.
Email: Saleem.icccad@iub.edu.bd

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

Nepal: Where Abortion is Treated as Homicide

A Nepali family. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS

By Sabin Shrestha
KATHMANDU, Nepal, Jun 6 2018 (IPS)

Less than thirty years ago the likelihood of a mother dying due to pregnancy or childbirth in Nepal was one of the highest in the world. In 1990 UNICEF estimated that the rate was 901 women or girls out of 100,000 – significantly higher than any of its neighbours.

Since then the country has been somewhat of a global success story in maternal health. By 2015 the rate had been reduced to 215 and it is hoped that it has fallen even further in the last three years.

In the 1990s over half of maternal mortality instances were due to unsafe abortions. Still illegal in most circumstances women often sought backstreet options carried out by untrained personnel. Abortion laws were strictly enforced to the point that pregnant women sometimes feared they would be charged with homicide – even if they miscarried.

I grew up in Kathmandu and have worked on this issue for more than 15 years. I’ve seen how the lives and well-being of Nepalese women and girls were being put at serious risk during a time when they needed support. Thankfully, others were in agreement.

Responding to months of lobbying and coalition-building Nepal’s Parliament passed a bill in 2002 which legalised abortion without exception for 12 weeks. Services to enable women to access reproductive health care were also scaled up in quite a short time frame. Nepal had achieved a minor miracle.

Although a conservative country in many ways the transition was relatively smooth.

But making sustained progress in this landlocked and developing nation, where most people live in a remote or rural area, was not easy. In the past legal abortions were difficult for most women to access and the financial cost in a public hospital was often more than a month’s salary, meaning that some women were either forced to continue with an unintended pregnancy – or avail of an unsafe abortion carried out by somebody without proper medical training.

In the mid 2000s an estimated 4,000 Nepalese women were still dying each year as they were being forced to undergo unsafe abortions.

Coming from a poor household in Western Nepal a young woman called Lakshmi had little hope of being able to pay for an abortion after becoming pregnant. Like many other women her realistic choice was to either get an unsafe abortion or to continue her pregnancy.

She chose the latter, but in 2007, along with our partner the Center for Reproductive Rights and my organisation the Forum for Women, Law and Development (FWLD), she brought forward what would turn out to be a landmark case.

Lakshmi maintained that Nepal’s government had failed to enforce its own law on reproductive rights and that safe and legal abortion was extremely difficult to access for most Nepalese women and girls – including herself. She argued that it was not sufficient that abortion was technically legal, but that reproductive health care was a basic constitutional right, which should be affordable and easily accessible.

In May 2009 the Supreme Court of Nepal agreed with her and called on the government to promote the availability of safe and legal abortion in Nepal, to enact a new separate act addressing the issues of women’s reproductive health rights, to ensure personal information of women who get abortions remains confidential and to inform, educate and increase awareness among the general public.

This was a major step forward, but it has only partially come to pass. Abortion services are currently available in 75 district hospitals and also in a limited number of primary health check locations. Since 2016 the Nepalese government has also provided free abortion services through Government Health institutions.

However, only 41% of women of reproductive age know that abortion is legal, it is still seen as a social taboo – and even when they do avail of it it is still treated as homicide in some cases. I know of at least 13 women who are serving prison sentences, including Meera, a young woman from Biratnagar, who is currently serving a seven year sentence for infanticide after she had a miscarriage in 2015.

The government has failed to make it possible for women to be able to afford to pay for abortions, a significant number still do not know that abortion is legal, information on contraception is still not properly communicated, and midwives and other medical personnel have yet to be properly trained on reproductive health and rights.

Out of the 323,100 abortions which took place in Nepal in 2014 only 137,000 were safe and legal. Untrained health workers are still carrying out the majority of abortions here.

Following the devastating 2015 earthquake in Nepal that killed over 9,000 people up to 90% of birthing centers in the 14 most affected districts were either seriously damaged or destroyed. During this time abortion was next to impossible to access. Three years on not all have been re-built, meaning that the challenges already faced by pregnant women have been exacerbated.
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However, things may finally be about to change for the better. A new bill on reproductive rights has been recently approved in principle by the Office of Prime Minister and Ministers Council, which will respond to the concerns highlighted by our Supreme Court nine years ago and will separate reproductive rights as a distinct legal issue. It will ensure that women have much better access to information on their rights and that a fund is set up for women who cannot access free abortions, carried out by only qualified health personnel.

We are hopeful that the government will formally enact this into law in the coming months, which will also finally make it impossible to convict a woman of homicide if she has an abortion or suffers a miscarriage. This would provide a context for securing the release of those who are still in prison for very unfair reasons and transform the futures of millions of Nepalese women and girls.