Paris Climate Agreement – The US Pull-Out

By Louis Rumao :

With the Pull-out from the Paris Climate Agreement, the US joins the only other two non-participants: Syria and Nicaragua.
The Paris Climate Agreement (PCA) is described as an incentive for and driver of fossil fuel divestment. The developed nations are to finance a climate fund to help developing nations for action on climate change.
As a Presidential candidate Donald Trump, the first and possibly the only `non-politician’ candidate ever to run for the US presidency, had campaigned on some radical promises like:

  • Building a wall on the southern border, paid for by Mexico
  • Getting out of the NATO Pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement
  • Stopping Muslim immigration
  • Simplifying the tax code to reduce regulatory and tax burdens

Trump was given no chance of winning, not only because of his bombastic, non-statesman style, but because his opponent – Hillary Clinton – was highly promoted by the liberal media and the political establishment. Although, Ms. Clinton won a majority of popular votes, Trump won the Electoral College votes, and hence the election.
Now, as President, Trump is striving to keep his campaign promises, and as promised, he declared on June 1, 2017 that he was pulling the US from PCA, as “a reassertion of America’s sovereignty”. He also argued PCA has disadvantaged the US “to the exclusive benefit of other countries, leaving American businesses and taxpayers to absorb the cost”. He said the US could try to re-enter the deal under more favorable terms or work to establish an entirely new accord. The White House assured everyone that the US is committed to “robust efforts to protect the environment”. Also, the decision will not relax the US regulations on power plants and car rules aimed at reducing carbon emissions.
Reaction to the Trump decision was fast and furious, from environmental activists, his political opponents, and from overseas. The leaders of France, Germany and Italy joined “to note with regret” the Trump decision and to express doubts about any change in the accord. “We frankly believe that the Paris Agreement cannot be renegotiated,” French President Macron, German Chancellor Merkel, and Italian Premier Gentiloni jointly wrote; an obvious European rebuff to President Trump.

Global Climate Agreements

The previous global climate agreement, known as the Kyoto Protocol, was a failure. The Kyoto Protocol attempted to use harsh enforcement provisions to ensure that participating nations would achieve a goal of seven percent reduction in carbon emissions. This goal only applied to developed nations, while developing nations like China and India were given a pass. The uneven distribution of burdens led to the US never adopting the protocol, and of the nations that did promise emission cuts, only the EU, which negotiated as a bloc, was compliant.
The Paris climate agreement was designed to be a weak and voluntary accord. It is an agreement within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) dealing with greenhouse gas emission mitigation, adaptation and financing starting in 2020. The language of the agreement was negotiated by representatives of 195 countries at the 21st Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC in Paris and adopted by consensus on December 12, 2015. As of June 2017, 195 UNFCCC members have signed the agreement, of which 148 have ratified it.

What Does PCA Do?

In the agreement, each country self-determines the contribution it should make to mitigate global warming. There is no mechanism to force a country to set a specific target by a specific date. The aim of the convention is described in Article 2, “enhancing the implementation” of UNFCCC as follows:
Hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change.Countries aim to reach “global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible”. The agreement has been described as an incentive for and driver of fossil fuel divestment.
The contributions that each individual country should make to achieve the worldwide goal are determined by all countries individually and called “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs). Article 3 encourages them to be “ambitious”, “represents a progression over time” and sets “with the view to achieving the purpose of this Agreement”.
In the Paris Agreement, the developed countries reaffirmed the commitment to mobilize $100 billion a year in climate finance by 2020, and agreed to continue mobilizing finance at the level of $100 billion a year until 2025. The commitment refers to the pre-existing plan to provide $100 billion a year in aid to developing countries for actions on climate change adaptation and mitigation.

Time To Panic?

No, regardless of the dire predictions from some activists! Consider some of the several mitigating possibilities:
Under the normal rules of the agreement, the US cannot withdraw from PCA until November 2020, when the next presidential election takes place, and possibly a new President could reverse Trump’s decision.
Before that happens, overseas leaders may soften their stance and modify PCA to Trump’s liking.
Thirdly, According to Jessica F. Green, a New York University professor and frequent contributor on environmental policy topics, the Trump decision would not roll back the considerable US progress in environmental protection. She notes, “States, cities and many companies in the US realize that a sensible climate policy is prudent financially as well as for the environment.”
Significantly, the US companies are pursuing green options and the US utilities are phasing out coal-powered plants. Thus in reality, the US government does not control or make many of the decisions that affect climate.
Hopefully, the rest of the world will continue to do its part in protecting the environment. The Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has vowed his nation will continue to go “above and beyond” in its fulfillment of the Paris Accord on combating climate change. He told the Paris media, along with French President Emmanuel Macron, two days after Trump’s announcement, that the agreement was part of “our duty to protect Mother Earth.”

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