In mid-2017, President Donald Trump announced that the United States planned to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, an international agreement to tackle climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But the structure of the Paris Agreement meant that the withdrawal could not happen until the end of 2020. On Wednesday, the US officially withdrew from the agreement and waived its commitments.
President Trump’s reason for withdrawing — he claimed it was too expensive and unfair for the United States — didn’t quite fit with the deal’s draft, which was based on voluntary commitments that could be changed over time. updated. (He also exaggerated the cost of the agreement and downplayed its benefits.) Of course, he has repeatedly dismissed the science of climate change, which certainly influenced his decision.
But is this the end of US involvement in the Paris Agreement? That depends entirely on the outcome of the elections. But rejoining the agreement is much easier than quitting.
If Trump wins reelection, the move will of course stand. The United States’ pledges have been swept away and they will remain on the sidelines as nearly every other country in the world continues to participate.
What would that mean for the climate? Well, the US emits more greenhouse gas than any other country not called “China”. The US withdrawal has not been followed by other defectors, but the country clearly cannot provide leadership on climate change after exiting the agreement. In addition to the promised emissions reductions, the US will also not make the promised financial contributions to the Green Climate Fund, which was intended to help poorer countries respond to climate change. That is a big blow to the fund. National emissions trends, meanwhile, would depend entirely on market forces in the US, with little or no policies encouraging faster emissions reductions over the next four years. This could partially offset the commitments of other countries.
However, if Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden wins the election, he has pledged to rejoin the deal “on day one.” And the Paris Agreement is structured to make that very easy. If Biden rejoins on day one, it would become official just 30 days after the United States filed the notice, so it could take effect as soon as the end of February.
The policy options available to a Biden administration also depend on election results, as a Republican-controlled Senate is likely to block most climate legislation. Actions would then be limited to executive powers — such as many regulatory policies passed under the Obama administration and then reversed or watered down under the Trump administration.
2021 on deck
In either scenario, the Paris Agreement continues with the rest of the world in it. China recently announced plans to reach net-zero emissions by 2060 – a major improvement beyond their initial Paris promise to see emissions top by 2030. The first round of “ratchet” negotiations for the Paris Agreement will take place in 2021, encouraging countries to strengthen their commitments now that the agreement is 5 years old. China can update its pledge to meet its net-zero plan. The elections will determine whether the United States will be involved in these negotiations.
In a press release, Rutgers University climate scientist Bob Kopp said: “To stabilize the global climate, the world needs to reduce its net carbon dioxide emissions to zero and greatly reduce its emissions of other greenhouse gases. That’s just a fact – it’s a result of physics and chemistry. It is also the vision behind the Paris agreement.”