Implications of U.S. Leaving the Paris Climate Agreement

It is not over.

Last week, the Trump Administration began the yearlong process of withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris Agreement. What does this mean for Americans?

Before we talk about ramifications, let’s do a quick refresher on the Paris Agreement; what it is and why you and I should care about it.

What is the Paris Agreement?

The Paris Agreement is not the first international environmental-related treaty shepherded by the United Nations and it is unlikely to be the last.

United Nations Leaders Celebrating Paris Climate Agreement
United Nations leaders celebrating the 2015 Paris Agreement – photo United Nations.

The environment and global warming took the world stage during the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment hosted by Sweden. During that meeting, the Stockholm Declaration was created and agreed on. It contains both environmental and development principles.

The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) was founded that year to coordinate the UN’s environmental activities.

United Nations international environmental treaties include the 1987 Montreal Protocol aimed at phasing-out ozone-depleting substances (which it is doing), the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) with an objective of stabilizing greenhouse gas emissions, and the 1997 Kyoto Protocol establishing greenhouse gas emission reduction commitments for developed countries (the U.S. did not ratify it).

In 1995, the UNFCCC parties (countries) began coming together each year to assess progress, establish new commitments, and negotiate new treaties and amendments to existing treaties. This meeting is called the Conference of the Parties (COP).

President Barack Obama at 2015 UN COP 21 Climate Conference in Paris, France on November 30, 2015

The Paris Agreement was negotiated and agreed to during COP 21 in December 2015. It was entered into force on November 4, 2016.

Then U.S. President Barack Obama attended the COP 21 climate conference – photo credit Arnaud Bouissou – MEDDE/SG COP 21

Paris Agreement

The Paris Agreement builds on the UNFCCC (Convention) which is still in force. The Convention’s objective was and is:

“stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. Such a level should be achieved within a time-frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner.”

The Paris Agreement objective is described in Article 2:

1. This Agreement, in enhancing the implementation of the Convention, including its objective, aims to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change, in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty, including by:

(a) Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C [3.6°F] above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C [ 2.7°F] above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change;

(b) Increasing the ability to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change and foster climate resilience and low greenhouse gas emissions development, in a manner that does not threaten food production; and

(c) Making finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development.

2. This Agreement will be implemented to reflect equity and the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances.

Attendees Wearing T-Shirts with Hashtag 2050startsnow at 2015 UN COP 21 Climate Conference in Paris, France
Two attendees at the Commonwealth Youth Climate Change Network session at the 2015 COP 21 climate conference in Paris, France – photo United Nations.

Of the 195 parties (every country) that signed the Paris Agreement only 10 countries did not ratify it (Angola, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Libya, South Sudan, Turkey, and Yemen).

My layperson interpretation is that the intent of the Paris Agreement is to up the ante by establishing a specific temperature ceiling, requiring each country to determine a greenhouse gas emission reduction target, and obliging developed countries to provide financial assistance to help developing countries (who are also the lowest emitters) adapt to climate change impacts.

U.S. Withdrawal from the Paris Agreement

Article 28 of the Paris Agreement states that any party may withdraw from the Agreement three years after it was entered into force and that the withdrawal will take effect one year after notification.

When the U.S. Department of State issued a statement on November 4, 2019, announcing that the United States was withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, it was not a surprise. Trump had announced his intention to do so while speaking in the White House Rose Garden on June 1, 2017.

Man Holding a Crystal Ball Showing Future Years Inside
Photo credit – iStock/shutter_m.

I am not a policy expert nor do I own a crystal ball (you probably do not either), so I do not know what the future repercussions will be, but here are a few observations so far.

  • Regardless of the fact that the U.S. has been a party to the Agreement since before he took office; Trump has been purposefully rolling back environmental regulations and protections and thwarting climate action.
  • The credibility of the United States has already been undermined by the actions of the Trump Administration so pulling out of this international agreement just adds more tarnish to our battered reputation.
  • By withdrawing from the Agreement, Trump is abdicating U.S. leadership of the climate movement which could have far-reaching economic and social ramifications. His actions are further endangering the health and wellbeing of Americans and people all around the world (including his own children and grandchildren).

There is some good news.

When the U.S. officially withdraws from the Agreement in 2020, there will still be 184 parties working towards its common goals.

A growing number of U.S. governors, mayors, and business leaders have stated that they are still in and are committed to achieving the Agreement objective. These leaders are actively taking climate action and creating their own partnerships with each other and other countries.

What Can You Do?

We have an opportunity in 2020 to elect a president that will put us back in the Paris Agreement. In the meantime, we can keep the climate movement alive and moving forward in our own communities, cities, counties, regions, and states.

  • Support climate action initiatives and policies where you live that are advancing things like clean renewable energy, regenerative agriculture, decarbonized transportation and buildings, infrastructure resilience, and waste reduction.
  • Tell your elected officials that you support the Green New Deal.
  • Give your time and/or money to environmental justice organizations that are helping people who are and will be more impacted by the climate crisis than others.
  • Be an informed voter and vote in local, state, and national elections.
  • Participate in climate rallies, vigils, and marches (people in the streets demanding change do get things done).
What Do Love Ribbon Banner at 2015 UN COP 21 Climate Conference in Paris, France
This banner was seen at the Alternatiba festival during the 2015 United Nations COP 21 climate conference in Paris, France – photo credit Mark Dixon.

I can imagine the people of the United States fulfilling and even exceeding the commitments in the Paris Agreement in spite of the fact that technically we will not be part of it.

I am still in. Are you?

Featured Image at Top: This is a photo of the Eiffel Tower lit up with 1.5 degrees being projected on it during the United Nations COP 21 climate conference in Paris, France on November 30, 2015 – photo credit Francois Mori/AP.

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Resources

  1. As Trump Steps Away from Paris Climate Agreement, U.S. States, Cities and Businesses Step Up – by Joel Jaeger, Tom Cyrs and Kevin Kennedy, World Resources Institute, 10/23/19
  2. China, France reaffirm support of Paris climate agreement, call it ‘irreversible’ – by Marine Pennetier, Reuter, 11/05/19
  3. On the U.S. Withdrawal from the Paris Agreement – Press Statement, U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo, 11/04/19
  4. Paris Climate Agreement: Everything You Need to Know – NRDC
  5. Statement by President Trump on the Paris Climate Accord – the White House, 06/01/17
  6. The Climate Crisis in Terms Trump Can Understand – by Ban Ki-moon and Patrick Verkooijen, The New York Times, 11/07/19
  7. The Paris Agreement: When is a Treaty not a Treaty? – by Josh Busby, Global Policy, 04/26/16
  8. The Real Impact of US Withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord – by Michele Bonanno, Impakter, 06/10/17
  9. The Reality of U.S. Climate Action: Non-Federal Leadership is Delivering Ambition and Action – America’s Pledge, September 2019
  10. Trump Isn’t a Climate Denier. He’s Worse. – by Robinson Meyer, The Atlantic, 11/05/19
  11. U.S. Climate Alliance Governors Oppose Administration’s Withdrawal from the Paris Agreement – press release, United States Climate Alliance, 11/04/19
  12. U.S. Withdraws From Paris Accord, Ceding Leadership To China. – by Ariel Cohen, Forbes, 11/07/19
  13. Virginia Democrats campaigned on their Green New Deal and fighting climate change. And won. – by Umair Irfan, Vox, 11/06/19
  14. What is the Paris Agreement? – United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

On Fire – Book Review

We can thrive not just survive.

If you or someone you love is planning to live on Earth anytime in the future, you should read Naomi Klein’s On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal.

Without ever having read a review about it or at least glancing at the front flap of the book jacket, have you ever grabbed a book off of a bookstore shelf and then walked immediately to the checkout counter and bought it? I will only do this for a very few authors which include Naomi Klein, Bill McKibben, and Yvon Chouinard.

That is how I obtained my copy of On Fire.

In just under 300 pages, you will receive a valuable history lesson about the climate crisis and a vision for what we can and need to do to keep Earth habitable for ourselves and those who come after us.

Book Review

Since I had read nothing about On Fire, I did not know what to expect other than it had to do with the climate crisis and the Green New Deal. Having read previous books by Klein I was prepared for a fast-paced, informative, and action provoking book. It is.

On Fire Book Cover

Readers before cracking open On Fire, I suggest you approach reading it with an open and inquisitive mindset. You may find some parts disturbing but you will likely feel uplifted by others.

On Fire consists of essays and public talks that Klein has written and presented over a ten year period from 2010 to 2019.

She covers a lot of ground from the Gulf of Mexico to the Vatican to the Great Barrier Reef. Wide-ranging topics include climate change, capitalism, science, culture, and the Green New Deal. Along the way, you will be exposed to terms like Anglosphere, othering, sacrifice zones, neoliberal economics, and geoengineering.

My copy of On Fire is sporting a bright pink and red ruffle along the page edges where sticky tabs are marking passages that I thought were important or worth reviewing again later. Here are a few examples.

For me, the paragraph below from the “Introduction” pretty much sums up our current situation.

“The past forty years of economic history have been a story of systematically weakening the power of the public sphere, unmaking regulatory bodies, lowering taxes for the wealthy, and selling off essential services to the private sector. All the while, union power has been dramatically eroded and the public has been trained in helplessness: no matter how big the problem, we have been told, it’s best to leave it to the market or billionaire philanthro-capitalists, to get out of the way, to stop trying to fix problems at their root.”

In the chapter entitled “The Leap Years,” Klein describes the Leap Manifesto, a sort of Canadian version of the Green New Deal that she helped write. Page 178 contains a very important message that every environmentalist should heed.

“One thing we were very conscious of when we drafted the Leap Manifesto is that emergencies are vulnerable to abuses of power, and progressives are not immune to this by any means. There is a long and painful history of environmentalists, whether implicitly or explicitly, sending the message that ‘Our cause is so big, and so urgent, and since it encompasses everyone and everything, it should take precedence over everything and everyone else.’ Between the lines: ‘First we’ll save the planet and then we will worry about poverty, police violence, gender discrimination, and racism.’

“The Art of the Green New Deal” chapter near the end of the book discusses the power of art and how it can help us envision the social and ecological transformation we can have if we have the courage to go for it.

The video below co-created by Klein beautifully embodies this idea.

The Bottom Line

When Naomi Klein published her first book about the climate crisis This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate in 2014, she was already an award-winning journalist and bestselling author. She is currently the Senior Correspondent for The Intercept and the Gloria Steinem Endowed Chair in Media, Culture, and Feminist Studies at Rutgers University. Klein is the co-founder of the climate justice organization The Leap.

Many wonderful writers do not have the grasp of language that Klein does. Her writing is clear, understandable, and evocative. She tells it like it is and seems to purposefully say things in a way intended to rile you up, like poking a stick in a hornet’s nest. This is one of the things that make her such a powerful writer. We need people who are willing to say what is really going on and to spur us to action. Klein does that.

I recommend you read On Fire first and then give or loan a copy of the book to someone you know that has not come to grips with the fact that the climate crisis is already here and that we can do something about it.

Featured Image at Top: Sunrise Movement youth activists demanding a Green New Deal during a sit-in outside the office of U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi on November 12, 2018 – Photo courtesy of Sunrise Movement.

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