We May Not Like Donald Trump’s Comment About India’s “Filthy” Air. But Is He Wrong?


We May Not Like Donald Trump’s Comment About India’s “Filthy” Air. But Is He Wrong?

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

In USA’s election season, India seems to be witnessing the most action. The latest salvo came – unsurprisingly – from Donald Trump yet again, who labelled India and China “filthy”. Trump was both correct and incorrect: India’s Air Quality Index is among the worst and Indian cities routinely figure on every list of most polluted places in the world. However, the context of the remarks was climate change and global warming, and India’s per capita emissions are nowhere near those of developed countries.

“Look at China, how filthy it is. Look at Russia. Look at India. It’s filthy. The air is filthy. I walked out of the Paris Accord as we had to take out trillions of dollars and we were treated very unfairly,” Trump said, while talking about pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord and claiming that the US has the “lowest number in carbon emissions”. The Paris deal aims to cap global warming below 2 degrees.

The remarks were in response to a question posed by the debate moderator Kristen Welker, on how Trump would combat climate change and support job growth simultaneously. This isn’t the first time Trump has made similar comments about India’s air quality. In another interview in May, he had said, “China, India, Russia, many other nations, they have not very good air, not very good water, and the sense of pollution.”

Predictably, Trump’s remarks left a lot of feathers ruffled. Several Twitter users pointed out that India had rolled out the red carpet for the US president, while he had no qualms throwing India under the bus. Still others spoke about why Indians were so riled up, considering the evidence.

However, Trump’s comments were inaccurate, given the context they were made in. As an editorial in the Times of India points out, “While the US is responsible for 22% of the cumulative emissions choking the planet, India has contributed only 2%. As a much poorer plus more populous country India necessarily has greater medium-term dependency on fossil fuels. Paris Accord was meant to help countries like India transition to cleaner technologies,” a deal that Trump backed out of on account of the fact that the US would have had to pay for “cleaning up” the air of other countries.

India’s per capita emissions, as many pointed out, are actually far below the USA’s. In fact, as this National Geographic article illustrates, Qatar’s carbon emissions are the highest in the world, three times that of the United States’. Others on the list include Kuwait, UAE, Denmark, Belgium, Australia, Canada, and The Netherlands, aside from USA.

Sadly, data has never been a passion of our favourite overseas friend.