The Paris agreement is a landmark environmental accord within the United Nations framework that was adopted by almost every nation in 2015. These countries agreed to ‘undertake ambitious efforts to combat climate change’ and strengthening these efforts over time. It was also a collective aim, intending to join forces in this effort, assisting developing countries in the process. Former President Barack Obama joined the Paris Agreement in 2015, which came into effect in 2016. In June 2017, President Donald Trump announced that the United States of America would leave the Paris Climate agreement, becoming the first nation in the world to do so, and serving a devastating blow to the world. On Wednesday, November 4th the USA officially withdraws from the agreement.
The United Nations website outlines the Paris Agreement as thus: ‘The Paris Agreement central aim is to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Additionally, the agreement aims to strengthen the ability of countries to deal with the impacts of climate change. To reach these ambitious goals, appropriate financial flows, a new technology framework and an enhanced capacity building framework will be put in place, thus supporting action by developing countries and the most vulnerable countries, in line with their own national objectives. The Agreement also provides for enhanced transparency of action and support through a more robust transparency framework.’
It has taken just over three years for the USA to withdraw from the agreement due to a complex number of rules that were built into the agreement to account for the possibility of a country withdrawing from the deal. No country could give notice to leave the agreement until three years had passed from the date of ratification, then the member state had to serve a twelve month notice period before it could leave – which in the case of the USA, has now been served.
The withdrawal of the USA from such an important cause has been a devastating blow to many across the world. Carlos Fuller, from Belize, the lead negotiator for the Alliance of Small Island States in the UN talks, said to the BBC, ‘”It’s definitely a big blow to the Paris agreement… We actually worked very hard to ensure that every country in the world could accede to this new agreement. And so, by losing one, we feel that basically we have failed.”
According to National Geographic, ‘The U.S. is currently the second-highest greenhouse gas emitter in the world. It’s responsible for spewing more than 5 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide a year since 1990, to say nothing of other potent planet-warming gases, such as methane or hydrofluorocarbons. The country is number one in overall “historical” emissions, however: the source of 25 percent of all human-produced greenhouse gases that have collected in the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution.’
It also reported that the Trump administration had been actively disassembling many of the efforts put in place to meet the initial Paris Agreement targets. Rolling back the Clean Power Plan, a carbon emissions standard for powerplants that would decrease greenhouse gas waste by 30% by 2030.
The administration also weakened rules on controlling car and truck fuel efficiency and methane emissions. Obama policies meant that car and truck efficiency would increase to an average of 49.5 miles per gallon by 2030, but Trumps adjustments, made this number 42.3 miles per gallon, introducing an extra 300 million metric tons of CO2 into the atmosphere.
This has not meant however, that individually, people and businesses in the US that understand the threat of climate change to be a very real threat, have not been working to reduce carbon emissions and turn to more eco-friendly practices individually.
Trumps decision to leave the Paris Agreement can be overturned, a future president can choose to re-join the pact. However, Andrew Light, a climate expert at the World Resources Institute and an architect of the agreement reached under President Obama, stated to the National Geographic that re-joining the agreement would mean a future President ‘will have to revise the country’s plans and submit new, more ambitious goals—which may be more difficult to reach after several years of delays’. Presidential candidate, Joe Biden, announced that he would re-join the accord, should he win the presidency. However, at the time of writing this article, the winner of the 2020 US election had not yet been announced.