What Trump’s Paris climate agreement exit means for the world

US president triggers withdrawal from the accord

(Image credit: Isaac Brekken/Getty Images)

The US has begun the process of withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement, fufilling one of President Donald Trump’s long-standing campaign promises.

France and Japan led the international condemnation as Trump notified the United Nations on Monday of his intention to leave, triggering the one-year exiting process.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the global climate treaty had imposed an “unfair economic burden” on his country, which instead would follow “a realistic and pragmatic model” for combatting climate change.

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The BBC notes that Trump has pledged to turn the US into an “energy superpower” and has “attempted to sweep away a raft of pollution legislation to reduce the cost of producing gas, oil and coal”.

The US is on course to formally leave the Paris Agreement a day after the 2020 US election.

However, the Democrats would seek to reverse the decision if they win back the White House. Every candidate running to become the party’s presidential candidate has come out in support of the climate accord, with some suggesting that they would strengthen the US pledge.

What is the Paris climate agreement?

The treaty binds together the US and 196 other nations in an agreement to combat the causes of climate change.

Each signatory agrees to stick to a collection of rules and goals, which include:

  • keep global temperatures below the level of 2C above pre-industrial times and “endeavour to limit” them further to 1.5C
  • reduce the amount of greenhouse gases emitted to a level that trees, soil and oceans can absorb them naturally between 2050 and 2100
  • review each country’s contribution to cutting emissions every five years
  • provide “climate finance” to poorer nations to aid the adoption of renewable energy.

International negotiators sealed a deal to put the 2015 Paris Agreement into practice at a UN summit in Poland in 2018. This followed an initial agreement at the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference in Paris, and a signature ceremony in New York on 22 April 2016.

Ten countries have not yet ratified the treaty: Angola, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Libya, South Sudan, Turkey and Yemen. The US is the only nation to have pulled out of the agreement.

In a statement released back in June 2017, Trump claimed that the pact “punishes the United States [...] while imposing no meaningful obligations on the world’s leading polluters”.

What is the response to the US withdrawal?

Michael Bloomberg, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Climate Action, has criticised Trump’s decision as an “abdication of leadership”.

US politicians have also been scathing. Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the House of Representatives, issued a statement describing the withdrawal as a “disastrous decision that sells out our children’s future”.

Former vice-president and climate campaigner Al Gore said in a statement posted on Twitter that those who try to stop the battle against climate change “will be remembered for their attempts to sacrifice the planet for their greed”.

Meanwhile, environmentalist Bill McKibben, leader of climate campaign group 350.org, told the BBC that the withdrawal notification marked “the darkest moment in American diplomacy in a very, very long time”.

In an article for The Washington Post, John Kerry and Chuck Hagel, who served as Barack Obama’s secretaries of state and defense respectively, agree that this is a “dark day for America”.

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In The New York Times, Lisa Friedman writes that the US exit leaves “global climate diplomats to plot a way forward without the cooperation of the world’s largest economy”. She adds: “Keeping up the pressure for the kinds of economic change necessary to stave off the worse effects of planetary warming will be much harder without the world’s superpower.”

The Los Angeles Times says quitting the Paris Agreement is a “significant step in America’s retreat as an environmental leader”, noting that the move “is in keeping with the president’s belief that climate change is a hoax”.

Some Republicans have applauded Trump for fufilling his campaign promise to leave the pact. Congressman Gary Palmer tweeted: “It is high time for the US to leave this overly regulative and burdensome agreement that doesn’st really address climate change.”

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