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