- Paris Climate Agreement: Everything You Need to Know
- International Agreements on Climate Change
- United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
- Kyoto Protocol
- Kyoto Protocol versus the Paris Agreement
- Trump dumps Paris climate deal: reaction
- U.S. energy secretary: “the right course of action”
- Grantham Institute: “confused nonsense”
- House science top Republican: “bad deal”
- House science top Democrat: “I am not proud”
- UCAR: climate change still here
- Forster: “sad day for evidence-based policy”
- ITIF: “discouraging”
- EESI: withdrawal reduces “peer pressure”
- Reay: “you can’t hide”
- Kargel: an excuse to pollute
- Allen: “need to be thinking hard”
- No Matter Who Wins, the US Exits the Paris Climate Accord the Day After the Election
- The Paris Accord: U.S. Negotiation and Withdrawal
- Biden Needs a New Domestic Plan
- Biden’s International Challenge
Paris Climate Agreement: Everything You Need to Know
There’s a lot of misinformation out there about the Paris Agreement, including the idea that it will hurt the U.S. economy. That was among a number of unfounded claimsformer president Trump repeated, arguing that the accord would cost the U.S. economy $3 trillion by 2040 and $2.
7 million jobs by 2025, making us less competitive against China and India.
But as fact checkers noted, these statistics originated from a debunked March 2017 study that exaggerated the future costs of emissions reductions, underestimated advances in energy efficiency and clean energy technologies, and outright ignored the huge health and economic costs of climate change itself.
Climate change is already costing public health. Research from NRDC scientists shows how inaction on climate change is responsible for many billions in health costs each year in just the United States—as communities around the world experience greater displacement, illness, famine, water shortages, civil strife, and death.
Research makes clear that the cost of climate inaction far outweighs the cost of reducing carbon pollution. One 2018 study suggests that if the United States failed to meet its Paris climate goals, it could cost the economy as much as $6 trillion in the coming decades.
A worldwide failure to meet the NDCs currently laid out in the agreement could reduce global GDP more than 25 percent by century’s end.
Meanwhile, another study estimates that meeting—or even exceeding—the Paris goals via infrastructure investments in both clean energy and energy efficiency could have major global rewards—to the tune of some $19 trillion.
In terms of employment, the clean energy sector employed more than 3 million Americans before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic—about 14 times the number of coal, gas, oil, and other fossil fuel industry workers—and has the potential to employ many more with further investments in energy efficiency, renewable energy, and electric grid modernization to replace the aging coal-powered infrastructure. Meanwhile, coal jobs aren’t so much being transferred “ America” as they are falling victim to market forces as renewable and natural gas prices decline. But supporting policies that promote an equitable transition—with community-led decision-making, a focus on equity, and retraining support—is an important means to helping communities leave the dirty energy economy behind them.
Finally, rather than giving China and India a pass to pollute, as Trump claimed, the pact represents the first time those two major developing economies have agreed to concrete and time-bound climate commitments. Both countries, which are already poised to lead the world in renewable energy, have made significant progress to meet their Paris goals.
President George H. W. Bush signs the Earth Pledge at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio De Janeiro.
M. Frustino/Associated Press
International Agreements on Climate Change
The Paris Agreement is the culmination of decades of international efforts to combat climate change. Here is a brief history.
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
In 1992, President George H.W. Bush joined 107 other heads of state at the Rio Earth Summit in Brazil to adopt a series of environmental agreements, including the UNFCCC framework that remains in effect today. The international treaty aimed to prevent dangerous human interference with earth’s climate systems over the long term.
The pact set no limits on greenhouse gas emissions for individual countries and contained no enforcement mechanisms, but instead established a framework for international negotiations of future agreements, or protocols, to set binding emissions targets.
Participating countries meet annually at a Conference of the Parties (COP) to assess their progress and continue talks on how to best tackle climate change.
The Kyoto Protocol, a landmark environmental treaty that was adopted in 1997 at the COP 3 in Japan, represents the first time nations agreed to legally mandated, country-specific emissions reduction targets.
The protocol, which didn’t go into effect until 2005, set binding emissions reduction targets for developed countries only, on the premise that they were responsible for most of the earth’s high levels of greenhouse gas emissions.
The United States initially signed the agreement but never ratified it; President George W. Bush argued that the deal would hurt the U.S. economy since developing nations such as China and India were not included.
Without the participation of those three countries, the treaty’s effectiveness proved limited, with its targets covering only a small fraction of total global emissions.
The Kyoto Protocol’s initial commitment period extended through 2012. That year, at the COP 18 in Doha, Qatar, delegates agreed to extend the accord until 2020 (without some developed nations, which had dropped out).
They also reaffirmed their 2011 pledge from the COP 17 in Durban, South Africa, to create a new, comprehensive climate treaty by 2015 that would require all big emitters not included in the Kyoto Protocol—such as China, India, and the United States—to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
The new treaty—what would become the Paris Agreement—was to fully replace the Kyoto Protocol by 2020. However, the Paris accord went into effect earlier than expected, in November 2016.
Kyoto Protocol versus the Paris Agreement
While the Kyoto Protocol and Paris Agreement both set out to address climate change, there are some key differences between them.
Un the Kyoto Protocol, which established top-down legally binding emissions reduction targets (as well as penalties for noncompliance) for developed nations only, the Paris Agreement requires that all countries—rich, poor, developed, and developing—do their part and slash greenhouse gas emissions. To that end, greater flexibility and national ownership is built into the Paris Agreement: No language is included about the commitments countries should make; nations can set their own emissions targets (NDCs) consistent with their level of development and technological advancement.
While the Paris Agreement doesn’t have harsh penalties for countries not meeting their targets, it does have a robust system of monitoring, reporting, and reassessing individual and collective country targets over time in order to move the world closer to the broader objectives of the deal. And the agreement sets forth a requirement for countries to announce their next round of targets every five years—un the Kyoto Protocol, which aimed for that objective but didn’t include a specific requirement to achieve it.
Trump dumps Paris climate deal: reaction
Gage Skidmore/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)
As expected, President Donald Trump today announced he is withdrawing the United States from the Paris climate accord. In a speech from the White House Rose Garden, Trump made a largely economic case for withdrawing from the agreement, arguing the nonbinding accord was unfair to American workers and U.S.
competitiveness (points many economists fiercely dispute). At the same time, Trump said he was open to beginning “negotiations to reenter either the Paris accord or an—really entirely new transaction—on terms that are fair to the United States, its businesses, its workers, its people, its taxpayers.
” He provided no detail, however, on what that new agreement might look .
Trump’s decision represents a new obstacle to the Paris agreement’s goal of keeping planetary warming by 2100 below the 2°C ceiling that many consider safe. You can learn more from a special package of stories that Science published in November 2015, as nations were finalizing the Paris deal.
Here is a sampling of reactions to today’s announcement from members of the scientific community and others:
U.S. energy secretary: “the right course of action”
The Paris accord “was neither submitted to nor ratified by the U.S. Senate, and is not in the best long term economic interest of the United States,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry in a statement. “President Trump’s decision will prove to be the right course of action and one I fully support.”
“Instead of preaching about clean energy, this Administration will act on it. Our work and deeds are more important than empty words. I know you can drive economic growth and protect the environment at the same time, because that is exactly what I did as Governor of Texas.”
“The United States will continue to be actively engaged in the development of global energy and the world leader in the development of next generation technology.
That is exactly why I am traveling to Japan and China to discuss the benefits of all forms of energy, including nuclear, fossil, LNG and renewables.
I also plan to discuss technological advances such as carbon capture (CCS) that can leverage the abundant resources we have available in an environmentally responsible way.”
Grantham Institute: “confused nonsense”
“President Trump’s speech was confused nonsense,” said Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science, in a statement.
“He announced that the United States will withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change, while also launching negotiations to re-enter the Agreement.
But the Agreement states that no country can withdraw within three years of it coming into force, and the process of withdrawal takes a further year to complete.
That means the United States cannot complete withdrawal from the Paris Agreement before 5 November 2020, the day after the next Presidential election in the United States. So Mr. Trump will not have withdrawn from the Agreement within this Presidential term.”
“Furthermore, in making his case for withdrawal, President Trump cited a number of bogus sources, including a fundamentally flawed study by NERA Economic Consulting from March 2017 that calculated the costs of the United States implementing its targets under the Agreement while making many unrealistic assumptions, such as every other country ignoring their targets, and no development of electric vehicles to replace those fuelled by gasoline. And, as his chief economic adviser has warned the President, withdrawal from the Paris Agreement will not save the coal industry in the United States, which is being put business by cheaper sources of electricity, particularly shale gas and renewables.”
House science top Republican: “bad deal”
“By withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement, President Trump has freed America from a bad deal that would cost billions of dollars but have little significant environmental benefit,” said Representative Lamar Smith (R–TX), the chair of the House of Representatives science committee, in a statement.
“Former President Obama bypassed Congress when he agreed to the deal, putting our nation at an economic disadvantage and imposing huge burdens on American families and businesses.
President Trump’s decision will allow America to move forward with policies sound science and smart cost-benefit analyses to ensure Americans don’t bear the brunt of the all-pain, no-gain policies of the previous administration.”
House science top Democrat: “I am not proud”
“When the U.S. signed onto the Paris climate agreement, I spoke of how I was proud that we were taking a leadership role in protecting our environment and preserving our planet for generations to come,” said Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson’s (D–TX), the top Democrat on the House science panel. “Today, I am not proud.
I am saddened and embarrassed that this country will not be working in coordination with the international community to address the threat of climate change. In a time when we are watching the Great Barrier Reef die, one of Antarctica’s ice sheets collapse into the sea, and experiencing more severe weather events, it is the height of shortsightedness to pull this agreement.
The President is not only ceding leadership on addressing this threat, perhaps the most serious environmental challenge in human history, but his action today betrays a lack of faith in America’s ability to innovate our way this global challenge. Historians will not look kindly on today’s decision. The U.S.
should be striving to leave the world a better place for future generations, not walking away from our responsibilities our citizens and our planet.”
A sad day for evidence-based policy.
UCAR: climate change still here
“Today's decision does not mean that climate change will go away,” said Antonio Busalacchi, the president of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, in a statement.
“To the contrary, the heightened potential for increased greenhouse gas emissions poses a substantial threat to our communities, businesses, and military. The work by U.S.
researchers—to understand and anticipate changes in our climate system and determine ways to mitigate or adapt to the potential impacts—is now more vital than ever.”
Forster: “sad day for evidence-based policy”
“A sad day for evidence-based policy,” said Piers Forster, director of the Priestley International Centre for Climate, University of Leeds in the United Kingdom, in a statement.
“My hope is that he is ignored by his own country and that the individual citizens, businesses and states that make up the U.S.A will increase their ambition to decarbonize.”
“It is very discouraging that President Trump is pulling the Paris Agreement to cut carbon emissions,” said David Hart, senior fellow at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation in Washington, D.C., in a statement.
“The United States’ abdication of global leadership will diminish confidence in the pact and discourage other nations from staying the course, while also making it more difficult for the United States to forge robust alliances with other nations on other issues of joint concern. But leaving Paris doesn’t mean that all hope is lost.
If the Trump administration and Congress focus on innovation, the United States can still be a global leader—both in the fight against climate change and in the burgeoning market for clean energy.”
“Federal policy should do more to foster public-private partnerships that will expand private investment in clean-energy technologies and get more value from public investments.
Key areas for investment include the smart grid, energy storage, carbon capture and sequestration, and advanced nuclear and solar power.
Without a smart, aggressive clean-energy innovation strategy, the world will not avert the worst effects of climate change, nor will the United States achieve global market leadership in this foundational sector of the economy.”
EESI: withdrawal reduces “peer pressure”
“The Paris Climate Agreement depends on peer pressure to succeed, as there is no enforcement mechanism,” said Carol Werner, executive director of the Environmental and Energy Study Institute in Washington, D.C.
, in a statement.
“Unfortunately, by withdrawing from the agreement, the United States is reducing the pressure on other nations to live up to their commitments, which undermines the hard-won global consensus to act against climate change.”
Reay: “you can’t hide”
“The United States will come to rue this day,” said Dave Reay, chair in Carbon Management & Education at the University of Edinburgh, in a statement.
“President Trump has argued that his decision puts economic interests first, that it will cut out interference from foreign bureaucrats and help U.S. business. In fact this move puts all business and economic interests at much greater risk. Climate change knows no borders, its impacts are blind to national flags. If global efforts to limit warming fail then we are all in trouble. From climate change, Mr. President, you can run but you can't hide.
Kargel: an excuse to pollute
“Globally, the backtracking on the Paris agreement removes restraints on developing nations to pollute,” said climate researcher Jeffrey Kargel of the University of Arizona in Tucson, in a statement. “Some countries will use this lapse as an excuse to join the biggest polluters, and our global climate change dilemma will worsen faster than it otherwise would.”
“Some factors will partly mitigate the harm done by Trump. First, the CEOs of major oil companies are alarmed by the climate-change issues and are pressing for corrective actions. In fact … Exxon Mobil shareholders [have] voted to demand that their company exhibit more climate change accountability.
Secondly, California and other states will act on their own to counter the effects of Trump's bad decision making. Thirdly, the business wisdom of solar power already is global. Even the Kentucky Coal Museum has shifted to sun power because it is cheaper than coal-powered electricity.
Finally, Trump will not be calling the shots indefinitely; but politically, he and his supporters in Congress will indefinitely own climate change impacts.”
Allen: “need to be thinking hard”
“Withdrawing and then re-entering the Paris Agreement under different terms would, in effect, be identical to revising the US ‘nationally determined contribution’—something the Agreement specifically allows,” said earth scientist Myles Allen of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, in a statement.
“But following this extended drum-roll, that would have been a bit of an anticlimax. Once the theatrics are over, much will depend now on how the rest of the world responds to this proposal to ‘renegotiate’ the terms of US participation. If we really want to put the future of the planet first, we need to be thinking hard about how to make the Agreement both more effective and more acceptable to nations with substantial fossil reserves—or the US won’t be the last one to be taking this step.”
No Matter Who Wins, the US Exits the Paris Climate Accord the Day After the Election
Regardless of the outcome of the presidential election, the United States will officially be the 2015 Paris climate agreement on Nov. 4, marking a disappointing milestone in the international effort to stop global warming.
Climate experts say that, if the world’s biggest historic greenhouse gas polluter won’t slash emissions, there’s little hope of meeting the Paris target of averting catastrophic global warming.
But the U.S. could rejoin the global climate pact quickly, and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has said he would do that early in his presidency.
After sending a letter to the United Nations Secretary General, the United States would once again become a party to the Paris Agreement 30 days later, said Michael Burger, executive director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University. Around the same time, the U.S. would also need to submit a new national emissions reduction pledge, he added.
And if it’s backed up with ambitious domestic climate policies, a green recovery from the pandemic, support from Congress and a renewed push for international collaboration on various climate initiatives, the U.S. reentry could help reinvigorate worldwide efforts to transition to a net-zero carbon economy by 2050.
The U.S. could definitely regain a leadership role after regaining trust and credibility, said Andrew Light, a former State Department climate negotiator who worked on the Paris deal and is now a George Mason University professor of philosophy, public policy and atmospheric sciences.
“Biden has said that climate change will move to the center of U.S. foreign policy, and that will have to be a White House priority, to make sure all our aid programs are oriented in that direction,” he said.
The Paris Accord: U.S. Negotiation and Withdrawal
The Nov. 4 withdrawal date isn’t directly linked to the U.S. election. It was determined by the intricate timing mechanisms of the international climate pact, which became effective on Nov. 4, 2016, after 55 countries, responsible for at least 55 percent of total global greenhouse gas emissions, had formally ratified the agreement.
The membership rules specified that the first opportunity to initiate a formal withdrawal would be three years after the effective date, which worked out to be Nov. 4, 2019.
That’s the day the Trump administration’s official withdrawal notice was submitted to the United Nations by the State Department.
That notice, in turn, becomes effective one year later, which happens to fall on the day after the U.S. election.
The agreement is flexible enough to enable some U.S. participation, including through America’s Pledge on Climate, a group of cities, states, universities and businesses that banded together following Trump’s withdrawal to help meet the nation’s Paris climate goals. But the U.S. would no longer have a formal government team at the climate talks, or a vote when decisions are made.
The Paris agreement aims to limit global warming to under 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit and as close to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit as possible by reducing greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050.
Studies show the initial pledges made in the last few years are not sufficient to reach the temperature-capping target, and 2020 was supposed to be the year that countries would announce more ambitious targets for lowering emissions.
The U.S. played a major part in shaping key sections of the agreement, including an emphasis on monitoring and verification, said Susanne Dröge, a policy analyst at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin.
The agreement also aims to help member countries adapt to adverse climate change effects droughts and extreme storms through financing, including a flow of money, through the Green Climate Fund, from high-emitting developed countries to developing countries with smaller carbon footprints that are most vulnerable to global warming impacts.
Under former President Barack Obama, the U.S. pledged $3 billion to the fund in 2014 and had paid $1 billion by the end of Obama’s term, but Trump damaged the financing deal when he reneged on the remaining $2 billion, undermining American credibility with developing countries trying to transition to sustainable low-carbon economies.
President Barack Obama makes a statement on the Paris climate agreement in the Cabinet Room of the White House on Dec. 12, 2015 in Washington, D.C. Credit: Dennis Brack-Pool/Getty Images
Even with that fund, the concept of compensating developing countries for climate damages was left “very, very vague,” reflecting U.S. reluctance to take responsibility for the harm its emissions have caused, Dröge added.
In its totality, the Paris agreement is completely voluntary, depending on peer pressure and a friendly competitive environment to increase the ambitions for climate action. Each country makes independent pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to transparently report on efforts to mitigate global warming.
The negotiations are on a pandemic hold this year, with some negotiations continuing in the background. Both the European Union and China, which account for about 38 percent of total global emissions, have announced deeper emissions cuts than their initial pledges under the agreement.
As disturbing as Trump’s withdrawal was to some, it wasn’t game-over for U.S. climate policy, said Light. Emissions dropped slightly even as U.S. participation in the climate talks waned, mainly because of the rapid decline of coal-burning for energy, a trend that Trump ly couldn’t stop in a second term and that would probably accelerate under Biden.
Also significant, he said, are the combined carbon-cutting efforts of the states, cities, businesses and universities that are part of America’s Pledge. Together, those entities would be the second biggest in the world and account for 51 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, so their actions affect the global emissions trajectory, he said.
The announced and planned carbon cutting by that coalition could help the U.S. reach a 25 percent cut in emissions by 2030, even with pushback from the federal government, he said.
And moderate federal support for those efforts could help the U.S. achieve a 50 percent reduction by 2050. The coalition also contributed to the new Zero Carbon Action Plan, released Oct.
27, that could be a roadmap for getting to net-zero emissions by 2050.
Biden Needs a New Domestic Plan
If Biden is elected, Dröge said she would expect re-entry into the Paris agreement quickly, as promised, but there are a few challenges. For one thing, the initial U.S.
emissions reduction pledge toward the agreement was closely tied to President Obama’s 2013 climate action plan, which included ambitious national plans for reducing carbon emissions from coal power plants and vehicle tailpipes, both of which Trump has scrapped.
Environmental interests and several state governments are challenging his rollbacks in the federal courts.
“The U.S. dominated the international agreement so it would be in sync with U.S. domestic policies, and now those policies are not in place,” she said.
Reinstating the federal emissions standards proposed for cars and trucks would be a critical part of that, since vehicle emissions have passed the power sector as the biggest source of greenhouse gas pollution in the U.S.
, according to the most recent annual report by America’s Pledge on Climate.
Re-tightening federal controls on methane emissions from oil and gas production that the Trump administration loosened would also help drive deeper emissions cuts.
Developing a new national pledge to control greenhouse gas emissions could be the trickiest part of rejoining the agreement, trying to jump on board a moving train.
With recent promises to make deeper emissions cuts and accelerate the pace toward a carbon-neutral world economy by 2050, the European Union and China are now driving the train, while the U.S.
, with no national strategy to reduce fossil fuel use, isn’t even along for the ride.
In crafting a new national plan for emissions reductions, Biden should carefully consider his first steps rather than just rushing back into the Paris agreement to make a political statement, said Reimund Schwarze, a climate economist with the Helmholtz-Centre for Environmental Research in Germany.
Having a robust national emissions plan in place first would make the reentry more credible, and waiting a few months to line up the pieces would make no big difference to the international process, said Schwarze, who tracks the climate talks as an expert observer.
Biden could use that time to get Congressional support for rejoining the Paris agreement, which could make it harder for a future administration to pull out again. “He could even bring the U.S. back to a leadership role, but you need a strategy to become a leader,” he said.
Re-establishing the authority of the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases should be an early step in Biden’s climate strategy, said Dröge. If Biden can integrate a plan for reducing emissions with pandemic recovery, shore up the EPA and get Congress on board, she said, a quick turnaround that would benefit global climate policy is within reach.
Light, the former U.S. climate negotiator, said Biden must show the American people that the Paris pact is in the U.S. interest. That includes critics on the left who say the Paris agreement is not enough to avert the worst of the climate crisis.
But this must be accompanied, he said, by two additional domestic policy thrusts—addressing environmental justice issues, and ensuring a just economic transition for communities that have economically relied on fossil fuel extraction.
Biden’s International Challenge
Internationally, Biden probably needs to come to the next round of global climate talks, in November 2021 in Glasgow, with a substantial climate action package to regain a strong position in the negotiations, Light said.
The U.S. also needs to re-engage with other climate important climate efforts that have been undermined by the Trump administration the past four years.
That includes ratifying the Kigali Amendment to cut hydrofluorocarbon emissions, climate pollutants that are more potent than carbon dioxide over the short term, he said.
And Biden should renew its participation in the Arctic Council’s efforts to cut methane and black carbon pollution, which are accelerating the dangerous meltdown of the high north.
To prioritize global climate policies, Biden should organize the White House and other relevant agencies “in ways that embed climate considerations in U.S. foreign policy and national security,” Susan Biniaz, a former top climate negotiator for the U.S., wrote in a blog post for the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law where she is a non-resident senior fellow.
Reinstating the State Department’s special climate envoy position and appointing climate experts in “non-traditional places” would resonate internationally as symbolic and substantive steps, she wrote.
Reorienting the government in such a fashion could trigger a beneficial competition with China, a green race to the top, with “a big pull effect on world markets,” said Dröge.
“It would be a big signal to the world that the U.S. is serious about this and could help reestablish some of the confidence that has been lost.
But it will take some time for other countries to believe the U.S. is on board again.”
One way to win back global credibility, she added, would be to reestablish the U.S. commitment to the Green Climate Fund, set up to help developing countries cope with climate impacts. It’s not clear where that money would come from, given the budget crunch resulting from the pandemic.
Biden has already promised to convene a global green recovery summit with a focus on integrating climate action into economic stimulus measures, Light said. Many other countries are already doing that, leaving the U.S. well behind the curve.
“He has to show that the U.S. is ready to support other countries, and then revive and reorient the development finance institutions, which are investment generators, get the multilateral development banks on board and do what European banks have started doing, getting carbon off the balance sheets,” he said.
“Other countries are seriously in jeopardy because of climate change. They are more vulnerable because they don’t have the resources to adapt,” he said. “We have traditional security interests all over the world. If the U.S. is not seen as an ally, if we don’t help them, others will, and they will be seen as more favored allies.”
Bob Berwyn an Austrian-based freelance reporter who has covered climate science and international climate policy for more than a decade. Previously, he reported on the environment, endangered species and public lands for several Colorado newspapers, and also worked as editor and assistant editor at community newspapers in the Colorado Rockies.