On the 4th November 2016, the Paris Agreement was made effective 11 months after it signed. Come June 1st 2017, the US notifies the United Nations that it will be withdrawing from the agreement. With 195 nations signed, it was seen as a monumental triumph that superpowers and developing countries alike would commit to the ambitious targets. But now the second largest emitter has pulled out, does the agreement have a chance of succeeding?
Everyone knew it meant business when Presidents Barack Obama and Xi Jingping issued a joint statement, saying that they aspire to the targets set by the agreement. China and the US, accounting for 38% of the earth’s emissions, showed that it was possible for two completely different nations to accept that climate change is a threat. Numerous studies however showed that the agreement was too ambitious, even before the US pulled out. Keeping an increase in the Earth’s global temperature bellow 2 degrees Celsius, with each country aiming to cut emissions even more every 5 years.
Trump and Obama’s views on climate change couldn’t be more different. Trump has claimed that climate change is a hoax started by the Chinese to make the US less economically competitive, whilst also tweeting:
“It could be the COLDEST New Year’s Eve on record. Perhaps we could use a little bit of that good old Global Warming that our Country, but not other countries, was going to pay TRILLIONS OF DOLLARS to protect against. Bundle up!” (Dec 2017)
Obama sees climate change as “the greatest threat to future generations”, and dedicated his final year in office to creating policy such as the Clean Power Plan and spreading the word of environmentalists and climatologists. Although Trump repealed Obama’s climate policies in which he labeled ‘job killing regulations’, Obama still thinks the agreement will prosper even without the US’s influence, which is naive.
Trump is introducing new energy plans that would release more emissions than before. Coal and Nuclear energy companies are due to receive more government contracts and subsidies, businesses that were previously suffering. This increase of emissions will make it much harder to achieve the targets set by the agreement, as progress by others will be undermined by the actions of the US. Whilst aspects of environmentalism still remain within the US, for every environmentally conscious democratic state, there are more republican state governments that support of these changes.
Of course the Paris Agreement wasn’t just a call for a reduction in emissions, but a development scheme to fund poorer countries that may not be able to afford green technology and climate defenses. Despite the dozens of state governments who have pledged to adhere to the agreement, which is their prerogative, the US’s funding to these lesser developed countries wont be as significant. Michael Bloomberg is willing to cover $4.5m of the pledge, which wont make nearly as much of a difference as the original plan.
I can see that I’m approaching this pessimistically and perhaps I should be seeing it as an opportunity, for other western countries to take on more of the responsibility. This isn’t to say that we should pack away our hopes of a greener and sustainable future, however the ramifications of US withdrawal are dire. We must accept that Trump is going to be in the White House for at least another 3 years, and cater our climate plans around that. Compromising a deal with the Trump administration in my opinion is the only way we can aspire to this future. This can mean anything from scrapping the deal and drafting a new one, to reducing the price that the US would have to pay. Either way the US must be apart of it.
By George Facey