The US Supreme Court had one more shocking verdict on June 30. It decided against federal agencies using their regular executive power to phase out fossil fuel power plants in the country. This verdict came only a few days after it allowed the carrying of firearms in public and overturned abortion rights. However, unlike these two previous verdicts, the latest one in limiting some of the key powers of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the US has profound global implications.
The Supreme Court’s conservative supermajority has virtually made it impossible for President Joe Biden to fulfil his commitment to bring down America’s greenhouse gas emissions by 52 per cent by the end of this decade against 2005 levels. The 19 Republican states, which had gone to the Supreme Court to protect their coal-fuelled power sectors, contributed 44 per cent of the US’s emissions in 2018. In the last two decades, they have only managed to reduce 7 per cent of their emission on average.
The US might be home to only 4 per cent of the global population, but its present share in global emissions is 14 per cent. Historically, the US alone has contributed more than 20 per cent of the total emission. The failure of the US to reduce its carbon emission will take away any hope for the world to limit global warming to 1.5-degree C. More than its failure to reduce emissions, this verdict also takes away the moral authority of the Biden administration to lead the global fight against climate change.
The absence of the US from the global climate community during the four years of the Trump era has led to the decline of the credibility of the US leadership to steer the international efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The arrival of the Biden administration was looked at with hope and expectations. On day one of his office, the US rejoined the Paris Agreement. President Biden appointed former Secretary of State John Kerry as his special envoy for climate. Despite a lot of promise, the Biden administration has, however, failed to deliver on regulating carbon emissions. The bitter political partisan environment and evenly split US Senate have stalled Biden’s proposal to spend nearly $555 billion on climate and reducing carbon emission measures.
The Supreme Court [ruling] has also hindered the US from taking a leadership role in global climate change negotiations and closed its eyes to the thousands of American dying every week due to polluted air.
The war in Ukraine has also limited Biden’s options in taking concrete measures to fulfil his promises on climate leadership. The increase in gas and oil prices has forced him to reduce fuel taxes and release oil from the country’s emergency reserve. Despite John Kerry jet-setting around the world to sell the Biden administration’s global climate action plan, the US is struggling with a lack of moral authority and financial power. The undignified history of George W. Bush walking away from the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and Donald Trump from the 2015 Paris Agreement doesn’t help America’s case. The Supreme Court’s ruling last week, if anything, has ended Biden’s hope of becoming the Climate President.
Climate change is not the only adverse effect of air pollution. According to a recent report published in The Lancet Public Health, pollution is responsible for the premature death of around 9 million people globally every year. The deaths by air pollution have increased by 66 per cent over the past two decades.
A study by Pure Earth says air pollution is the most dangerous as it is responsible for 6.5 million deaths annually. Another study claims that fossil fuel-caused air pollution kills one in five people worldwide. As per this research, exposure to fine particulate matter, or PM 2.5, from burning fossil fuels had caused 8.7 million deaths in 2018 alone.
Whatever that number, the number of people killed by fossil fuel-induced air pollution is very high, and the annual death rate can surpass the total number of officially confirmed COVID-19 deaths. Air pollution is fuelling the climate crisis and killing people, and it has also become the reason for enormous economic loss. According to the World Bank’s estimate, the global cost of air pollution is more than $5 trillion annually.
Though air pollution causes most of the deaths in the countries of the Global South like China, India, and Nigeria, thousands of Americans die every year due to polluted air. It’s estimated that nearly 110,000 Americans die every year from dirty air. About one of every 25 premature deaths in the US is caused due to air pollution, and the number is higher than the combined deaths in the country in road accidents and shootings. The US has made significant progress in curbing its air pollution in the last three decades, but still a long way to go.
There is no doubt that the US Supreme Court’s ruling in restricting EPA’s power to limit greenhouse gas emissions has brought a devastating blow to the world’s ongoing struggle to protect the planet from climate change. The Supreme Court has also hindered the US from taking a leadership role in global climate change negotiations and closed its eyes to the thousands of American dying every week due to polluted air.