You have probably heard some mention of the Paris Climate Agreement over the past few years and certainly within the past few days. On Monday, the Trump administration filed paperwork to formally begin withdrawal from the pact. What does the Paris Agreement entail, however, and what is the significance of the United States’ exit? To answer these questions, let’s journey back to 2015 when the agreement first made headlines.
In December 2015, world leaders from 195 countries formulated an environmental accord to combat the harmful impacts of climate change. The agreement formally took effect nearly one year later on November 4, 2016. Marking a significant milestone in efforts to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, the Paris Climate Agreement aims to limit temperature increases to 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. The deal includes new emission reduction commitments from the world’s top carbon polluters and a monitoring system to report on country’s individual-level progress toward their targets. It also aids developing nations in their climate mitigation and adaptation efforts. Under the Obama administration, the United States specifically pledged to cut economy-wide emissions of greenhouse gases by 26 to 28 percent below its 2005 level by 2025.
Upon taking office in 2017, President Trump announced his intention to leave the agreement. The withdrawal process is not expedient, however. Under the terms of the deal, the Paris Climate Agreement must be in effect for three years before any country can formally announce its intention to withdraw. The country is then required to wait one year before it can entirely leave the pact.
This past Monday, November 4, 2019, marked three years since the Paris Agreement took effect, and the first time any country could formally file paperwork to withdraw. True to their word, the Trump administration has begun the departure process, citing the “unfair economic burden imposed on American workers, businesses, and taxpayers” as the primary motivation behind their exit. Nevertheless, the United States will not be able to completely disentangle itself from the Paris Agreement until November 4, 2020 - one day after the United States Presidential Election. If President Trump were to win reelection, the United States would almost certainly leave the agreement. This would make it the only nation on Earth not to participate in reducing global greenhouse gas emissions.
It is unclear what the United States’ potential withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement means for the rest of the world. Some fear the occurrence of a domino effect as other nations follow the U.S.’s lead in pulling out of the accords. Others maintain that the agreement will survive the United States’ departure. It has been two years since Trump first publicly announced his intention to withdraw, yet no other nation has echoed similar sentiments thus far. Furthermore, thousands of American state officials, business leaders, and private citizens have reinforced their commitment to the accord’s goals. They aim to keep the U.S. on track to reduce emissions by 2025, despite the opposing desires of the White House. One thing is clear, however. The U.S.’s withdrawal marks a decisive blow to global collective action efforts at combatting climate change.
An American withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement may not be permanent, however. The country’s role in the accords becomes more ambiguous if another candidate were to win the presidential election. Any future president could rejoin the agreement in as little as a month. Which side of the Paris Accords will the United States stand on come 2020? Only time will tell.
*Contributing Author: Mikayla Woodley