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The US has left the Paris Climate Accord. What now?


Earlier this month the United States became one of only 3 countries to reject the Paris Agreement on climate change.

The move sent shockwaves through the international community, but will it actually change anything?

Who else hasn’t signed up to the agreement?

Other than the US only Nicaragua and Syria aren’t signed up. Nicaragua didn’t think the agreement went far enough whilst Syria is in the grip of a prolonged civil war, which made their involvement impractical, if not impossible.

Why has the US rejected the agreement?

The official reason for the US exiting the accord, according to the Whitehouse, is that the President cannot support a deal that ‘punishes the United States’.

Why does Donald Trump believe that the agreement punishes America?

Firstly – let’s look at what the Paris Agreement is and isn’t:

  • The Paris Agreement is not binding and does not impose targets on members.
  • Member countries set their own objectives, to be reviewed after 5 years.
  • The only mechanism to ensure countries reach their objectives is the global embarrassment of failure.

When the US signed up to the Paris Agreement is was committed to reducing its emissions by 26% by 2025. These goals were developed by the Obama administration.

As the US set these targets themselves, and won’t be punished if they don’t reach them, how can the agreement be unfair?

Countries will reach peak emissions at different times

Over the coming years, some member countries plan to increase their emissions. Why? Because developing countries need to invest in industrialisation before they can look at reducing their emissions. China plans to reach peak emissions in 2030 whilst South Africa aims for emissions to peak 5 years earlier, in 2025. Once a country’s emissions have peaked, they must then work on reducing them.

The Trump administration objected to the idea of having to slash their own emissions whilst other countries were increasing theirs. 

The US contributes to the Green Climate Fund

A number of developing nations have emissions targets that are dependent on international support – for example, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan. Part of this support will come from the Green Climate Fund, which the US will now stop paying into.

The notion of the Green Climate Fund goes against the president’s ‘America First’ standing – with Donald Trump stating that he was elected to represent the citizens of ‘Pittsburgh not Paris’.

Climate Change Denial

On top of this, we have Donald Trump’s much-speculated climate denial. Whilst the president hasn’t officially confirmed his skepticism of man-made climate change, a Vox roundup found that he’d tweeted climate change skepticism 115 times, most famously stating that ‘The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive’.  

Coal

The revival of coal jobs has been a cornerstone Trump policy and a vote winner in states that have been decimated by the industry’s decline. Donald Trump sees the global move towards green energy as a driving factor for the collapse of coal and believes that by halting US progress in this area he can spearhead a fossil fuel revival.

Why didn’t the US withdrawal need Senate approval to leave the agreement?

The Paris Agreement doesn’t have a legal basis. That means it didn’t need Senate approval to be signed and doesn’t need approval to be revoked.

How long will it take to exit the accord?

It will take up to four years to exit the Paris Accord – meaning that the exit would actually occur during the next presidential term. That means that, depending on the next president, there’s a chance that the US could actually choose not to leave the agreement. In the meantime though, President Trump can slash funding for renewable energy projects, which may stymie the progress of the United States as a renewables leader.  This is assuming that the private sector, wealthy philanthropists, and individual states don’t pick up the slack.

What has happened since the US withdrew from the accord?

After leaving the Paris Agreement the administration lost a couple of prominent faces: entrepreneur Elon Musk and Disney CEO Bob Iger both left advisory boards.

What will change over the coming years?

Potentially, not much – especially if the private sector and states end up setting their own emissions targets. There are currently 12 states, 1 territory and 121 cities still committed to Paris Agreement targets as well as numerous companies with their own emissions objectives. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has spearheaded this group and pledged £15 million of his own money to make up for lost investment from the US Government. Many states have their own carbon targets that go over and above those set in the Paris Agreement, particularly California, which has a law that commits to slashing emissions by 80% by 2050.

Additionally, the cost of renewable energy is dropping- if renewables make financial sense coal is unlikely to make a comeback. Barack Obama takes this view – writing in ‘Science’ journal that the move towards wind and solar energy is irreversible.

The Trump administration hopes that leaving the Paris Agreement will boost job growth. However, it may actually have the opposite effect. Leaving the Paris Agreement could stifle job creation in clean energy sectors, leaving the country at an economic disadvantage in the future. If non-renewable energy sources do end up being more expensive, US businesses could end up with higher operating costs than those in countries with a cleaner energy mix. What’s more, under Barack Obama the US was seen as a world leader in climate change – a position that brought with it a competitive advantage. That spot is now vacant – who will fill it remains to be seen. 

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