The United States became the first nation to formally withdraw from the Paris agreement on Wednesday, the day after election day.
Trump announced the plan to withdraw back in June of 2017, but there are UN regulations in place that prevented the decision from taking effect until this week. Previous attempts to create a global pact for climate change failed because of internal U.S. politics, so President Obama’s negotiators worked with the UN to agree on a set of regulations that would prevent the U.S. from withdrawing too early in the case of a change in leadership. The rules stated that no country could leave the agreement until three years had passed since the date it was ratified. Once those three years had passed, countries needed to submit a 12-month notice to the UN. Because of these rules, Trump could not submit a formal notice until November of 2019, according to a BBC News article.
The Paris agreement requires participating nations to set their own targets for reducing greenhouse gases, and they must increase those goals every few years. The accord does not determine what those goals have to be, but countries are required to accurately report on their efforts. The overall goal is to keep rising average temperatures globally below 2 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels, according to a euronews article.
While Donald Trump made leaving the Paris agreement part of his election platform in 2016 and many of his supporters agree with the move, a large percentage of Americans are deeply disappointed by the decision. The U.S. currently represents about 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The decision to leave the agreement has hurt the country’s reputation globally, and Many Americans believe that the U.S. should be leading the fight against climate change because it is such a large contributor.
The results of the 2020 presidential election are not yet decided, but Joe Biden vowed to rejoin the Paris agreement on his first day in office if he is elected.
“Today, the Trump Administration officially left the Paris Climate Agreement. And in exactly 77 days, a Biden Administration will rejoin it,” Biden said in a Tweet on Wednesday.
The 25th annual Conference of the Parties concluded in Madrid on Sunday, and activists as well as participants largely consider the United Nations negotiations to be a failure. U.N. Secretary General António Guterres said on Twitter that he was “disappointed with the results” of the conference. “The international community lost an important opportunity to show increased ambition on mitigation, adaptation & finance to tackle the climate crisis.”
The talks were meant to conclude on Friday, but stretched on to be the longest ever in a quarter century. Delegates left with neither a commitment from the world’s largest polluters to adopt new carbon emissions targets next year, nor a set of rules for global carbon markets. Article 6, which sets up the international trade of emissions cuts and other forms of international cooperation, remains the last aspect of the Paris climate agreement to be resolved, and could “make or break” the entire agreement.
As the United States is the only country in the world backing out of the Paris climate agreement, this was the last chance, at least for some time, for U.S. delegates to participate in climate negotiations. The U.S., along with Australia, Brazil, China, and India, was singled out as among the major polluters blocking several actions, including more ambitious climate targets for 2020.
Other issues pushed into next year’s conference in Glasgow include:
How to support countries affected by the irreversible effects of climate change
An agreement on common timeframes for national climate pledges
The establishment of common metrics for converting non-carbon dioxide emissions into carbon dioxide equivalents to be reported
United Nations Secretary General António Guterres called on global leaders to ramp up their Paris Accord commitments and to do it soon in a speech he gave September 10 at the U.N. headquarters in New York.
“If we do not change course by 2020, we risk missing the point where we can avoid runaway climate change, with disastrous consequences for people and all the natural systems that sustain us,” he said, as quoted in Al Jazeera.
Guterres pointed to record-breaking temperatures and devastating natural disasters like Hurricane Maria as evidence that climate change is outpacing human efforts to reduce it. He called on leaders outside of national government, like industry leaders and local officials, to take initiative as well.
The U.N Paris Accord, signed by almost 200 countries, aims to keep global temperatures at least 2 degrees Celsius below a pre-industrial baseline by the end of the century. 2020. As of right now, many countries are not on track to meet these targets. Even if the Accord met its full potential, many critics argue the reductions it outlines would not actually meet the 2 degree mark.
Guterres spoke of the agreement, saying “What we still lack, even after the Paris Agreement, is leadership and the ambition to do what is needed,” as quoted in the New York Times. He asked leaders to step up and meet their Paris Accord promises to show citizens of their countries they “care about the people whose fate they hold in their hands.”
The next U.N climate summit, COP24, will be held in Poland this December. At this summit, world leaders who have heeded Guterres’ warning will have the opportunity to announce plans to increase their fossil fuel emission reduction targets.
The Linn County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on Monday to remain committed to the Paris Climate Accord, despite President Trump’s withdrawal at the federal level.
Linn County joins a group of more than 1,200 mayors, governors, college and university leaders, businesses, and investors that make up the We Are Still In coalition. An open letter from the coalition, which makes up more than $6 trillion of the U.S. economy, reads:
“In the absence of leadership from Washington, states, cities, colleges and universities, businesses and investors, representing a sizeable percentage of the U.S. economy will pursue ambitious climate goals, working together to take forceful action and to ensure that the U.S. remains a global leader in reducing emissions.”
Iowa City, Johnson County, Des Moines and Fairfield are also members of the coalition.
Following the board’s decision, businesses, local organizations and local leaders spoke during a news conference. Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker said, “Leadership on the tough issues can originate at the local level. One community can make a difference, this is our hope here today,” according to a report from The Gazette.
Local leaders emphasized that to keep the U.S.’s pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 28 percent before 2025, coalition members must walk-the-talk. Walker continued, “In absence of leadership in the federal government, the job is up to us locally.”
More than 1,200 United States governors, mayors, businesses, investors, and colleges and universities released a statement yesterday titled “We Are Still In,” declaring their continued support of the Paris Climate Agreement.
The businesses and investors speaking out for climate action include 20 Fortune 500 companies that generate $1.4 trillion in revenue annually. Participating city and state leaders collectively represent 120 million Americans ranging from New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio to Palo Alto Mayor Greg Scarff.
Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie and Dubuque Mayor Roy D. Buol are among the signatories. Cownie said in a written statement, “The recent action by the White House to withdraw from the Paris Agreement does not stop Des Moines’ efforts in advancing our own efforts on climate change. Cities like Des Moines will continue to work to make our communities more sustainable places to live.” Other statement endorsers from Iowa include state Attorney General Tom Miller; J. Bruce Harreld, president of the University of Iowa; Raynard Kington, president of Grinnell College; Paula Carlson, president of Luther College.
Cownie is in good company. Since the White House withdrew from the Paris Agreement, 17 governors have released statements in support of the accord, 13 governors formed the U.S. Climate Alliance and 211 mayors have independently taken on the climate action goals outlined in the Paris Agreement for their communities.
The “We Are Still In” press release concludes, “Today’s statement embraces this rapidly growing movement of subnational and civil society leaders, by announcing that not only are these leaders stepping forward, they are stepping forward together.”
Below, CGRER co-director Jerry Scnhoor interviews Mayor Cownie at COP21 in 2015.
President Trump is expected to back out of the Paris Climate Agreement, a 2015 climate accord that committed most of the world’s nations to limiting greenhouse gases. CGRER co-director, Dr. Jerry Schnoor, responded to the White House’s decision in a statement authored on May 31, 2017:
“President Donald Trump expects to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement this week. It is a sad time for U.S. leadership in the world. We should remain in the Agreement that we faithfully signed for important environmental, political, and economic reasons.
Climate change is already here – even in Iowa – and it is going to get much worse if we do not reduce our greenhouse gas emissions that are accumulating in the atmosphere and heating the planet. We recognize climate change in the Cedar Rapids flood of 2008, from which we are still recovering, and the (extremely unusual) Cedar River Basin flood of September last year. Temperatures are warmer, especially at night and in the winter. Intense precipitation is more severe and frequent. It is a wetter/warmer Iowa with more humidity in the air and greater runoff in our rivers.
At the global scale, ice is breaking and melting – in the Arctic, Greenland, Antarctica and land-based continental glaciers everywhere. Animals, which depend on the ice for fishing and hunting, like polar bears, are in trouble. Oceans are 30% more acidic than 50 years ago due to carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels, subsequently bleaching coral reefs and undermining fisheries. More frequent droughts and floods affect agriculture and food supplies. Sea level is rising and already influencing real estate prices and the number of days with “clear sky” flooding in the streets in Miami. Impacts on human health, heat stroke, air quality, pollen, emphysema and asthma, and the migration of mosquitoes and ticks as vectors of disease are especially worrisome.
Politically, the U.S. is losing its credibility in the world as a stable partner whether one speaks of the Paris Climate Agreement, NAFTA, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or NATO. Once broken, trust is hard to restore. America First means everyone else be damned, and friends can be difficult to find in times of need. Moral and ethical reasons would dictate that the richest country, which dumped more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than any other nation, should be the first to act. I stood in Paris with representatives from the most vulnerable nations like the Marshall Islands, Kiribati, and the Maldives, who are already losing whole islands to sea level rise and abandoning ancestral homes. I listened in Paris to coastal nations like Bangladesh, Senegal, Mozambique, and the Philippines, embattled by improbable storm surge and increasingly powerful storms. And my heart cries for the children of drought and famine in South Sudan, Somalia, and Ethiopia. These vulnerable countries profited the least from the fossil fuel age, but they suffer the most.
It is not often when 194 countries agree on anything. What makes the Paris Climate Agreement unique is that for the first time, nearly every nation (rich and poor alike) agreed on an equitable “bottom-up” plan to decrease emissions and to fund the most vulnerable nations. It is certainly not a perfect agreement, and it does not go far enough to stem the tide of climate change. More will be needed.
But the U.S. will not be a party to the agreement, and that is a major economic mistake. It is quite possible that China and President Xi Jinping will step into the limelight and lead the world forward. After all, China is already the world’s leading producer of solar photovoltaic panels and wind power. Interestingly, the Chinese written word for “crisis” has two characters. One character means “danger”, and there is certainly danger in the effects of climate change, both now and in the future. The other character stands for “opportunity”. It is the economic opportunity that the U.S. will miss, which China realizes fully. Transitioning from the fossil fuel age represents a great opportunity to create jobs, wealth, and prosperity for our children and for future generations. Iowa has already benefitted tremendously from wind power, turbine manufacturing, and energy efficiency. We stand to profit as well from solar photovoltaics, if we can but understand the crisis of climate change.”
Jerry Schnoor is Professor of Environmental Engineering and Co-Director of the Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research at the University of Iowa. He attended the Paris Climate Convention in December 2015 as an official member of the media.
The United States agreed to the Paris accord along with 200 other nations during the Conference of the Parties 21 (COP21) in 2015. Each country that signed on agreed to take some action to improve environmental conditions, mostly by reducing fossil fuel emissions that cause climate change. For its part, the U.S. pledged to bring its emission levels 26 percent and 28 percent below 2005 levels before 2050.
Tuesday’s letter was signed by top ranking prosecutors in Iowa, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, the District of Columbia and American Samoa. It read, “The Paris Agreement, by securing commitments from countries the world over, reflects this collective interdependency and constitutes an unprecedented global effort to address a problem threatening the well-being of everyone on Earth.”
The White House also received a letter from several major businesses in support of staying in the Paris agreement. On Wednesday, Apple, DuPont, General Mills, Google Intel, Shell and Walmart, among others, wrote to the President,
“Climate change presents U.S. companies with both business risks and business opportunities. U.S. business interests are best served by a stable and practical framework facilitating an effective and balanced global response. We believe the Paris Agreement provides such a framework.”
Trump Administration officials will meet today to discuss whether the U.S. should leave the Paris Agreement or stay the course. President Trump pledged to “cancel” the agreement during his campaign, but some of his top officials like Secretary of State Rex Tillerson are in support of the accord.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer said in a press conference that a decision will be made by “late May-ish, if not sooner.”