Leaving the Paris Agreement
an article by Lora Kwon
Dear Asian Youth,
On November 4th, people around the world anxiously awaited news revealing who the next president would be. Amidst the chaos, nerves, and arguments that ensued, many of us have overlooked a major turning point in the fight against climate change. As of November 4th, Trump is following up on his promises from 2017 and officially withdrawing the US from the Paris Climate Agreement.
The Paris Agreement was created in 2015 when hundreds of countries around the world came together in an effort to decelerate climate change. This was an overdue course of action, as climate experts from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have been repeatedly making it clear that the global temperature rise must stay below 2.0° C. As a result, the Paris Agreement is based on the global understanding that we need to incentivize countries to stop burning fossil fuels and make strides towards a green economy. Otherwise, most countries will maintain their fossil fuels industry in order to gain economic advantages. For example, developing nations have contributed the least to the fossil fuel industry, yet a lack of infrastructure and resources means that people within these nations are facing the most severe consequences (MIT Press). It would be hypocritical to discourage these countries from using fossil fuels to give their economy the boost they so desperately need. On the flip side, global superpowers such as the United States and China need to both come to a mutual agreement to cut down on carbon emissions because any country that keeps burning down fossil fuels will have an economic advantage over the other. If nobody is willing to make sacrifices, then everybody will lose.
The Paris Agreement understands and targets these issues accordingly. Firstly, the agreement heavily encourages developed countries to provide financial support to help developing nations achieve sustainability (NRDC). The current goal is to raise $100 billion by 2020, a number that is expected to rise within the next five years. The contributions that each country is expected to make is also dependent on their current wealth and ability to make these changes while maintaining equity. These are called nationally determined contributions, and they ensure that every country is placing forth an equal amount of commitment accordingly (UNFCCC). After establishing these individual goals at the start of the Paris Agreement, it was up to each country to figure out how to make these goals a reality. Though there was no technical penalty for failing to meet these agreed contributions, the Paris Agreement promised that nobody would economically fall behind during this transition. Most countries kept up with their promises due to an understanding that climate change will have irreversible global repercussions for centuries to come. Notably, China, a country that rivals the US in carbon emissions, has promised to level off carbon emissions by 2030 and reduce carbon emissions per unit of GDP by 60 to 65%. Even though the disease, natural disasters, and changes in food supply that result from climate change will disproportionately affect lower-class citizens, it will eventually come around to impact us all.
For a hot minute, the United States was doing really well. According to the Inventory of US Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2014, the amount of greenhouse gas emissions per capita went down even though the population and economy as a whole continued to prosper.
But the United States’ position as a global leader in fighting the effects of climate change is compromised by Trump’s decision to leave the Paris agreement. Even though the US is making strides towards improvement, the World Resources Institute estimates that from 1850 - 2011, the United States alone was responsible for 27% of the cumulative carbon dioxide emissions in the world, a percentage which is greater than that of all other countries. Yet now, the biggest contributor to climate change will be the only country of the 200 that joined the Paris agreement, to refuse to follow through on the promises to cut down on these emissions.
By leaving the Paris Agreement, there will be nothing keeping our country responsible for cutting down emissions, especially considering the Republican Party’s repeated denial of climate change as an issue. And not only are carbon emissions in the US expected to grow as a result of this lack of accountability, but the United States is setting a terrible precedent for other countries. Luckily, all other countries have agreed to forge ahead without the United States, but using fossil fuels will give the United States a competitive edge and this incentivizes other countries to quit the agreement as well (NPR). Plus, the United States would no longer be providing developing nations with the support they need to achieve lower carbon emissions.
But all hope is not lost as Biden has made his stance on the Paris Agreement very clear (NY Times). He has pledged to work his hardest to bring the US back into the agreement as soon as possible, even claiming that he has plans to do so by February 2021, just 77 days after his inauguration. Biden has also made claims of planning to spend $2 trillion over the course of his term to ensure that by 2035 coal, oil, and gas are no longer leaders in energy. Furthermore, he hopes that by the midcentury, the US economy will become carbon neutral. Individual states and businesses are also taking accountability and trying their best to help the US reach the lower carbon emissions that they originally promised. However, this task is made much more difficult without support from the federal government.
It is really difficult to comprehend the importance of climate change. Sometimes the situation does not feel immediate, and the idea that we human beings have had such a terrifyingly large impact on the Earth is difficult to wrap our heads around. But climate change is very real and its effects are far beyond what we can even begin to imagine. It is very disappointing to see the United States turning away from an agreement that promises unity and global change when it could easily be one of the pioneers in this new era of sustainability. So, as we nervously watch the seats in government turn blue and red, hopefully, we begin to realize the gravity of the situation at hand in terms of how this election will affect the Earth as we know it.
Cover Photo Source: France Diplomatie