President Donald Trump has announced his intention to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement on climate change. The move creates uncertainty around not only global climate change cooperation, but also U.S. leadership on the international stage, as countries including China, Russia, and India have signaled their intention to stay the course with their commitments.
Trump announced the US was leaving for economic reasons, saying the deal would cost American jobs. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the US would still curb emissions. The Paris agreement commits the US and 194 other countries to keeping rising global temperatures “well below” 2C above pre-industrial levels and “endeavour to limit” them even more, to 1.5C. The UN World Meteorological Organization said that, in the worst scenario, the US pullout could add 0.3C to global temperatures by the end of the century.
The United States, with its love of big cars, big houses and blasting air-conditioners, has contributed more than any other country to the atmospheric carbon dioxide that is scorching the planet. “In cumulative terms, we certainly own this problem more than anybody else does,” said David G. Victor, a longtime scholar of climate politics at the University of California, San Diego. Many argue that this obligates the United States to take ambitious action to slow global warming.
Trump characterised the Paris agreement as a deal that aimed to hobble, disadvantage and impoverish the US. He said it would cost the US $3tn (£2.3tn) in lost GDP and 6.5 million jobs – while rival economies like China and India were treated more favourably.
Trump indicated he was open to another climate deal “on terms that are fair to the United States” but the leaders of France, Germany and Italy quickly issued a joint statement rejecting any renegotiation. The Democratic governors of New York, California and Washington states all quickly vowed to respect the terms of the Paris deal.
In the past five months, he has already demolished the moderate attempts made by Obama to tackle greenhouse gas emissions in the US through a series of orders. So much so that US commitments under the Paris deal were already dead in the water. President Trump rescinded Obama Administration’s Climate Action Plan (CAP). His “America First Energy Plan” promised to do away with “burdensome regulations on our energy industry” and reviving America’s coal industry. His executive order on “energy independence” initiated the process of “suspending, revising, and rescinding” a number of existing policies, including the Clean Power Plan. Several other federal policies aimed at controlling emissions are under review.
Just doing away with the CAP, which was to improve energy efficiency and reduce methane emissions by 40-45%, especially from the fracking industry, will add about 1,000 million tons of greenhouse gases (measured in carbondioxide equivalent terms). The Clean Power Plan, which was to reduce power sector emissions by 32%, was blocked by the American Supreme Court and is now under review by the Trump administration.
Its scrapping will lead to an addition of 200 million tons of gases by 2025. Emission standards for cars and light trucks are under review, the moratorium on federal coal leases has been lifted, methane reporting requirements have been withdrawn and the Social Cost of Carbon, an accounting arrangement to build in costs of emissions, has been rescinded.
The US had committed at Paris to reduce emissions by 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025. Obama’s policies would have reduced emissions by 10%, the rest was still a work in progress. But all that is history now. With Trump’s anti-environmental, ultra nationalist stance, the downward trend of emissions of the last decade will be reversed, although efforts by States and cities may keep the momentum going.
In a survey of registered voters taken just weeks after the 2016 election, 69 percent said that the United States should participate in the agreement. This figure included 86 percent of Democrats, 61 percent of Independents, and 51 percent of Republicans. By a margin of 40 to 34 percent, even a plurality of self-described conservative Republicans backed the agreement. The administration has argued that the Paris Agreement is “unfair” because large polluting countries such as India and China are not required to do anything until 2030. The voters don’t buy this argument.
Two-thirds of them—79 percent of Democrats, 56 percent of Independents, and 51 percent of Republicans—say that the United States should reduce its greenhouse gas emissions regardless of what other countries do.
President Trump’s advisers may have suggested that withdrawing from the Paris climate accord would be a popular move. Howvere, as per experts, this could become yet another self-inflicted wound, because vast majorities of Americans want to remain in the Paris accord, including many of Trump’s own supporters.
Nearly 150 countries have ratified the Paris climate agreement, representing over 80 percent of global emissions. Nicaragua and Syria are among the only countries that have not signed the agreement.
Chinese President Xi Jinping expressed strong support for the Paris Agreement, and globalization in general, in his keynote address in Davos this January. European Council President Donald Tusk said after meeting Chinese Premier Li Keqiang that the two powers took their responsibilities seriously. “Today, China and Europe have demonstrated solidarity with future generations and responsibility for the whole planet,” he told reporters at a joint news conference.
France’s President Macron calls on the world to “make our planet great again. The fight against climate change and all the research, innovation and technological progress it will bring will continue with or without the United States,” he added. A spokeswoman for the Chinese foreign ministry, Hua Chunying, said China was ready to take a leading role in the fight against climate change. “In the future, China will continue to tackle climate change in all ways, will proactively participate in the multilateral process of tackling climate change and resolutely uphold the global climate management process,” she said.
Indian Environment Minister Harsh Vardhan said: “As far as the Paris accord is concerned… our government is committed, irrespective of the stand of anyone, anywhere in the world.” The group of the world’s 48 least developed countries accused Trump of showing disregard for millions of lives.
“Paris or no Paris, our commitment to preserving the climate is for the sake of future generations,” Prime Minister Modi said at St Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF).
The Prime Minister said India had been working to protect the environment even before 190 countries had agreed to sign the Paris deal in 2015. “I have in simple way stated the dream of ‘new India’. I quoted from 5000-year-old Vedas to say humans have a right to milk the nature but have no right to exploit it,” PM Modi said.
Scientists have warned the poorest countries across the globe will be the hardest hit by climate change as they lack capacity to cope with extreme weather events.
China and the US, the world’s first and second biggest polluters, respectively, are together responsible for some 40 per cent of the world’s emissions. India accounts for 4.1 percent of global emissions and is the third largest carbon-emitting country. Climate change, clearly, is real. It’s already doing damage around the world. Scientists and the leaders of virtually every country in the world take climate change seriously. There is only one major exception: the Republican Party in the United States.
Amnesty International USA’s Executive Director Margaret Huang called the decision an “assault on a range of human rights.” “By refusing to join other nations in taking necessary steps to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate climate change, the President is effectively saying: ‘Let them drown, burn, and starve,’” she continued.
The Trump administration’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement is a huge foreign policy blunder that will reverberate through our relationships with our allies. During the negotiation process, the United States pushed to make the agreement flexible to bring all countries on board and to keep them in the fold even if their situations and priorities changed. This flexibility means that our withdrawal would be completely unnecessary—the administration could have remained party to the agreement while still pursuing its policy goals.
Abdicating U.S. responsibility in climate change mitigation and the coming clean energy transition is likely to make other international negotiations more challenging, particularly with respect to trade. The withdrawal also opens up a geopolitical space in climate leadership that may or may not be filled. The United States was a crucial force in bringing the Paris Agreement to fruition, especially in bringing China into the fold.
Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have increased significantly in recent years from 317 parts per million in 1960 to more than 400 parts per million in 2016, levels that have not been observed for over 10 million years. This has lead to a rise in global average temperature of over 0.9 degrees Celsius (1.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above its 1960 level, and it is only projected to increase further without curbing fossil fuel use and thus emissions.
Countries in the G7, European Union, and Asia have already stepped up to reaffirm their commitments to the Paris agreement in response to the U.S.’ wavering stance. An upcoming EU-China Summit in Brussels is expected to result in a detailed action plan to limit global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) as laid out in the climate deal.
“Small Island States cannot afford to be dismayed or feel down about any of this, we have to move on for the sake of our countries [and] for humanity in general and for all countries,” Juneau concluded. Climate change is already contributing to extreme environmental events including rapidly melting ice caps, more frequent and devastating storms, and prolonged droughts which have and will continue to impact hundreds of millions of peoples’ human rights around the world.