In an unprecedented global effort to limit the effects of climate change, representatives from 195 countries came together in Paris, France in December 2015 to reach an international climate accord. The 31-page document, known as the Paris Climate Agreement, acknowledges the dangers of climate change and provides a framework for signatory countries to respond. The agreement is the result of decades of negotiation and sets a clear goal: “Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change." To accomplish this, each country has set its own emissions reduction target and must create a plan outlining how they intend to achieve it. These plans must be submitted by 2020 and will come up for review every five years thereafter. The agreement also mandates a “global stocktake” every five years to inform future targets and measure each country's progress. Additionally, the pact recommends that developed countries continue to take the lead in mobilizing $100 billion in financing from a variety of sources to help developing nations adapt to the impact of climate change and the costs of transitioning to lower carbon economies.
In June 2017, President Trump announced his intention to withdraw the U.S. from the pact. To justify his decision, the president argued that the agreement imposed, “draconian financial and economic burdens” upon the country. Most of the president’s claims, however, have been refuted by lawyers, scientists, economists, and fact-checkers alike. What’s more, the president’s decision isolates America from the global community. On November 7, 2017, Syria announced at the United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change that it would join the Paris Agreement, leaving Trump as the only world leader who opposes the pact.
Regardless of the President’s decision, provisions in the Paris Agreement prevent any country, including the United States, from completing the withdrawal process before November 2020. In addition to the delayed timeline of withdrawal, President Trump’s decision is weakened by the We Are Still In (WASI) declaration. Signed by more than 2,600 business, religious, governmental, academic, and community leaders across all fifty states, the WASI declaration condemns the president’s decision and reaffirms the signatories’ continued commitment to upholding the Paris Agreement. Most importantly, the President’s decision cannot undo the progress already made in the private sector. 2016 was a year of record-breaking gains, with renewable energy accounting for nearly two thirds of global net new power capacity. 2017 brought similar success, during which, “renewables saw the highest growth rate of any energy source… meeting a quarter of global energy demand growth.” Global markets clearly understand that reducing emissions is the way of the future, even if the president does not.
In February 2018, Science Advances published new research from Stanford University indicating that individual emission commitments pledged by Paris Agreement nations are not enough to achieve the pact's goal of holding the average global temperature increase to less than 2°C above pre-industrial levels. Though the difference between the countries' commitments and their Paris aspirations may only be 1°C, the research suggests that this is enough to significantly increase the likelihood of extreme, unprecedented weather around the world. At minimum, this dangerous reality calls for strict adherence to the pact.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
It's not too late for President Trump to reverse course, remain in the Paris Agreement, and implement steps to ensure the U.S. meets its obligations. Here are two things you can do to help:
- First, call your Senators at 202-224-3121 and ask them to co-sponsor S.Res.155, introduced by Senator Ben Cardin. The bill sends a powerful message that the U.S. "should work in cooperation with the international community and continue to exercise global leadership to address the causes and effects of climate change."
- Second, call your congressional representative at 202-224-3121 and ask them them how they voted on the Perry Amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (H.Amdt.179 to H.R.2810). This misguided amendment would have blocked the Department of Defense from studying the ways climate change affects our national security, including our bases in the U.S. and around the world. Instead of burying our heads in the sand, the U.S. should invest more in research to understand and address the effects of climate change. If your congressional representative voted to defeat the Perry Amendment, thank them for their leadership.
- The Emissions Gap Report 2017 – A UN Environment Synthesis Report, November 2017
- Advancing the U.S. Nonfederal Movement to Support the Paris Agreement – By Gwynne Taraska and Howard Marano, Center for American Progress, November 2017
- How the United States Can Remain Engaged in International Climate Finance – By Gwynne Taraska, et al., Center for American Progress, September 2017
- After Paris: A Climate Agenda that Serves U.S. Interests – By Dr. David Gordon, Divya P. Reddy, and Elizabeth Rosenberg, Center for a New American Security, September 2017
- Why Abandoning Paris Is a Disaster for America – By Daniel B. Baer, et al., Foreign Policy, June 2017