Last week the POTUS, Donald Trump, announced that the United States was withdrawing from the Paris Agreement.

It was no big surprise.

He’d made it loud and clear during the 2016 Presidential Campaign that he’d withdraw from the Agreement if elected. Media speculation in the days leading up to the announcement hinted that it was just a matter of him saying the words and the U.S. was out. And of course there was the body language and the refusal by Trump to endorse his support of the Paris Agreement at the May 2017 G7 Summit in Sicily, that basically confirmed that Trump was going to follow through on his pre-election promise.

So while we hoped he wouldn’t go there. He went there.

On 1 June 2017, United States President Donald Trump announced that the U.S. would cease all participation in the 2015 Paris Agreement.

With the withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Agreement as it currently stands, many of us are wondering what this means for not only the Agreement moving forward, but for global climate action on the whole.

In this article I pull back the curtain on the Paris Agreement. What it is. How it works. Why Trump withdrew.  And what the U.S. pulling out means for the rest of the world and global climate action.

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I’ve literally spent hours procrastinating at my computer preparing my notes for this episode… The Paris Agreement and climate change in general is a pretty dry topic to cover. How do I explain it all without it all sounding too technical and boring? How do I sum it up in a way that gives credit to the significance of the issue?

While I was faffing around on my computer a friend tagged me in a post on Facebook which just summed up the situation of U.S. pulling out of the Paris Agreement perfectly. It was a simple image that stated …

“Pulling Out Is Not An Effective Method of Climate Control” (Source)

Yes indeed, the withdrawal method is never an effective method Mr Trump!

All jokes aside, let’s now chat climate change… If you want a good background on what climate change is and why we should do something about it, check out my feature with Professor Bill Laurance on Climate Change first.

What Is The Paris Agreement?

The Paris Agreement (also known as the Accord de Paris, Paris Climate Accord and Paris Climate Agreement), is an agreement within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The Paris Agreements’ central aim is to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius (source).

The Agreement was negotiated by 196 parties and was adopted by consensus on 12 December 2015.

This event was wildly celebrated because for the first time, the Paris Agreement brought all nations (with the exception of Nicaragua and Syria) into a common cause to undertake ambitious efforts to combat climate change and adapt to its effects, with enhanced support to assist developing countries to do so.

How Does The Paris Agreement Work?

The Paris Agreement is the world’s first comprehensive climate agreement.

It spells out contributions that each individual country should make in order to achieve the worldwide goal. These are called “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs).

These contributions are to be reported every 5 years and each subsequent progression should be more ambitious than the previous one.

Collaboration is encouraged; countries can pool their nationally determined contributions.

China and the United States, not surprisingly, are the big players in the Agreement. China has 20.09% of greenhouse gases for ratification and the United States 17.89%… a reflection of the percentage of global greenhouse gas emissions generated by these nations.

Unlike its predecessor, the Kyoto Protocol, which sets commitment targets that have legal force, the Paris Agreement provides no consequences if countries fail to meet their commitments. Rather a “name and shame” system is adopted to encourage countries to step up to the plate and meet their commitments.

When Does the Paris Agreement Take Effect?

The Paris Agreement was opened for signature on 22 April 2016 and reached enough signatures to cross the threshold to ratify the Agreement on 5 October 2016. The Agreement formerly entered into force on 4 November 2016.

Why Did Donald Trump Withdraw the United States from The Paris Agreement?

On 8 November 2016, four days after the Paris Agreement entered into force in the United States, Donald Trump of the Republican Party was elected President of the United States.

Trump has been a long-term climate change sceptic. He tweeted in 2012 that he believed the concept of global warming was created by China in order to impair American competitiveness.

During the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign Trump pledged to withdraw from the pact, saying a withdrawal would help American businesses and workers, especially those in the fossil fuel industry. The withdrawal would be in accordance with Trump’s America First policy.

True to his word, on 1 June 2017, United States President Donald Trump announced that the U.S. would cease all participation in the 2015 Paris Agreement.

During his speech, Trump said “In order to fulfil my solemn duty to protect the United States and its citizens, the United States will withdraw from the Paris climate accord,” adding “The bottom line is that the Paris accord is very unfair at the highest level to the United States.” He claimed that the agreement, if implemented, would cost the United States $3 trillion in lost Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 6.5 million jobs. He added that it would “undermine our economy, hamstring our workers,” and “effectively decapitate our coal industry”.

While applauded by a few members of the U.S. Republican Party, reactions to the withdrawal have been overwhelmingly negative, scathing even, from religious organizations, businesses, political leaders, environmentalists, and scientists and citizens from the U.S. and abroad.

This is not surprising since the U.S. is the second highest emitter of greenhouse gases (after China) and enjoys possibly the highest standard of living in the world.

Here’s what a few global leaders had to say following Trump’s announcement (source: Wikipedia):

  • Israel– Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz criticized Trump for rejecting “a rare occurrence in which the world united”
  • Japan – The Minister of the Environment stated that withdrawal from the Paris Agreement was an act that “turned its back on the wisdom of the human race”
  • Portugal – During a visit to an elementary school, Prime Minister António Costa commented “it is a shame that President Trump did not attend this school and does not know what these children already know… that we only have one planet and that our first duty is to preserve it for future generations”
  • Sweden– Foreign Minister Margot Wallström described it as “a decision to leave humanity’s last chance of securing our children’s future on this planet”.
  • Vatican– Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, Chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, described the withdrawal as a “huge slap in the face” to the world

So why did he pull out?

Because he truly believes the Agreement is unfair to the U.S.?

Because he doesn’t believe climate change is real?

Because he likes to be in charge and doesn’t want to be hamstrung by an Agreement he didn’t negotiate?

Because he enjoys undoing any initiatives Obama truly believed in?

Only he knows…..

What Does the US Pulling Out Mean for the Rest of the World?

The U.S. joins two other non-signatory nations, Syria and Nicaragua. Nicaragua refused to sign for the given reason that the Agreement’s environmental demands were not strict enough and didn’t punish countries who didn’t follow it. Syria was unable to negotiate due to the ongoing Syrian Civil War.

While there’s been concern voiced that the United States’ exit would result in other nations following suit, Trump’s announcement has been quickly met by most other nations reconfirming their support for the Paris Agreement.

While conventional wisdom is that a U.S. withdrawal would be a worst-case scenario for international climate policy, it has been acknowledged that a Rogue US can cause more damage inside rather than outside the Agreement (source).

Rather than focussing on what the U.S. withdrawal means for the rest of the world, I think it’s more interesting to see what the U.S. withdrawal will mean for the U.S.

While it appears that Trump believes that withdrawing from the Agreement is in the best interest for the U.S., it’s likely that the move may result in the U.S. becoming a climate outcast and provide a unique opportunity for China and the EU to be the global front runners in the global climate regime. Spin offs from new green technology will be significant, as would be the boost to their international reputations and power.

If you thought the first six months of Trump’s presidency were entertaining, things just got more interesting. Watch. This. Space.

What Can You Do?

You don’t need to be a world leader to have a positive impact on climate action. You can get started today by reducing your own personal emissions. Reducing your food waste and eating more plant-based meals are two areas you can focus on that will significantly reduce your carbon footprint.

If you’re after strategies and support to help you create a sustainable home, check out Self Sufficiency in the Suburbs. Doors are closing this Thursday 8th June 2017!