BY SIERRA LEWANDOWSKI
On Thursday, June 1 President Donald J. Trump announced that “the United States will withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord” (Accord de Paris). This agreement, formed on Dec. 12, 2015, through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), is seen as the “world’s first comprehensive climate agreement.” By June 2016, an astounding 195 countries signed this agreement, making it a truly global effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The United States will now join Syria and Nicaragua as the only recognized parties not signed onto this agreement. However, the United States is alone in its reasoning to leave, as Syria is immersed in a civil war and Nicaragua contends that the agreement does not go far enough in its combative initiatives. While Trump’s decision fits with his campaign promises to put “America First” and maintain isolationism in economic affairs with the international community, many Americans voiced outrage over Trump’s apparent indifference to climate change and his resistance to making the environment a priority of United States policy.
The Paris Climate Agreement seeks to “strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change.” The agreeing countries must set individual goals for themselves to reduce greenhouse gas emission, and those targets are made public in order to be reviewed and checked on by the other participating countries. Within the agreement, all parties are accountable for holding global average temperatures “well below 2˚C above pre-industrial levels,” meaning that, despite the trend of increasing global temperatures, this agreement establishes a defined threshold. The accord then establishes that the temperature increase should be limited to “1.5˚C above pre-industrial levels,” creating an even more aggressive target over time. These goals are to be met “as soon as possible,” though this wording fails to provide either a binding or specific date.
Within the United States, former President Barack Obama agreed to reduce the United States’ global greenhouse gas emissions from 26 to 28 percent under the levels of 2005, by 2025. He additionally committed nearly $3 billion by 2020 in the form of international aid to go to poor countries unable to sustainably and efficiently convert to clean energy. Trump’s decision to leave the Paris Climate Accord is not particularly surprising. In fact, he has already worked to reduce climate change efforts within the United States, with measures like his decision to “slash” the Environmental Protection Agency budget, his choice to stop contributing to the United Nations’ Green Climate Fund and his commitment to lifting restrictions “on federal coal leases.” Trump did not campaign on being aggressive towards the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, and even stated in 2015 that he does not believe in climate change. Without being formally ratified by the U.S. Senate, the Paris Climate Accord effectively has zero formal retributions in place, and thus the decision to leave the agreement will lead to no consequences beyond international criticism.
Though it is evident that Trump does not hold the environment as central to his policy efforts, the real reason for his decision to leave the agreement has little to do with the environment at all. Trump’s resistance to the “draconian financial and economic burdens” imparted by the Paris Climate Accord, which commits the United States to finance other countries’ sustainable development, diverts funding away from America. He expressed his understanding of his election to be by “the citizens of Pittsburgh…not Paris,” further dedicating his efforts to focus on American industry and affirm his isolationist stance. However, despite his vocal commitment to American industries and to keeping America at the center of economic relations, top oil companies such as ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips vocalized their support of the accord, hinting at their fear of America being left out of foreign oil negotiations as retribution for the then-rumored withdrawal plan.
The United States’ decision to leave the Paris Climate Accord could lead to the overall weakening of the global effort. The United States is not only the world’s second largest greenhouse gas polluter, but it is also an important player in the international community with the ability to set precedent and trends. One major concern of U.S. withdrawal is the potential for a “ripple effect” where other countries, such as Indonesia or India, may become dissuaded to continue their efforts in greenhouse gas reductions. This decision to defy the Paris Climate Agreement commitment – seen as a uniting force in the otherwise tumultuous affairs between countries – speaks volumes to Trump’s true dedication to America and the American economy, even at the expense of the world.
Despite the potential impacts onto other countries, Germany and China expressed their dedication to the Paris Climate Agreement and their continued commitment to address climate change. China specifically acknowledged its “international responsibility” to reform their economy to move towards more sustainable practices. France’s new president, Emmanuel Macron, released a video that appears to be a direct response to Trump’s decision, in which he appeals to the world to “remain confident” and to ultimately “Make Our Planet Great Again.”
The strong reaction to this news is perhaps over-inflated. In reality, provisions within the accord determine that the process of rejection and withdrawal can last three to four years and is estimated to be complete by November 2020, the month Trump will be up for reelection. Most unfortunate, however, is the message that Donald Trump is sending to the rest of the world. The climate is in desperate need of strong advocates that prioritize processes of reduction across the globe, and though not without flaw, the Paris Climate Agreement is an incredible feat towards this effort. Trump’s decision is an embarrassing slap to the international community’s efforts and, as Al Gore stated, an “indefensible act” that will not only stop the United States from becoming an international leader against climate change, but will ultimately make the protection of the environment even more difficult. We can only hope that our local governments and state officials will do the work that our federal government has neglected to prioritize.