“A world that is safer and more secure, more prosperous, and more free,” are the words of former US President Barack Obama in December 2015, as he envisioned a world today’s children would be living in. Obama said these words when he announced that the US, along with other nearly 200 countries worldwide, had committed to the Paris Climate Agreement, which aimed at a joint and ambitious global action plan to fight climate change. Indeed, we all would want our children and our grandchildren to live in such a world. But was this really meant to happen?
Not so long after, when on June 1, 2017, former president Trump put that in jeopardy when he announced his administration’s plan to withdraw the country from the accord, as part of a larger to disassemble decades of US environmental policy. The Trump administration plan later became official on November 4, 2020.
Under the Paris Accord, countries are committed to voluntary reductions in carbon emissions to keep global temperature increases below 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (20 C), a level that the assembled nations warned could result in an “urgent and potentially irreversible threat to huma societies and the planet.”
The deal also commits countries to evaluate progress toward their goals and submit updated carbon reduction plans every five years. However, former President Trump chose to abandon all that, citing that the Paris Accord would impose unacceptable costs on the US economy and provide unfair advantages to other countries such as China and India.
Instead of coming up with a better plan to combat climate change, Trump instead chose to do the opposite. Trump emphasized the expansion of US fossil fuel production through his “America First Energy Plan” that focuses on reducing oil price, achieving energy independence, tapping domestic oil sources, and generating energy-related jobs by reducing regulations.
Moreover, Trump pledged to end what he termed as wasteful payments to the United Nations Green Climate Fund, where the US had pledged to grant $3 billion and had already paid $1 billion.
What has the Paris Agreement achieved so far?
There is no doubt that the US withdrawal from the Agreement brought significant setbacks to the efforts of the accord, considering the US is the second-highest carbon emitter. However, that doesn’t mean the efforts of the other member countries who chose to stick to the plan were futile. In fact, they’ve achieved a lot in that almost five-year period. Below are some things the Paris Agreement has achieved so far:
- Normalizing 1.5C- the Paris Agreement, through the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has been able to establish 1.5C as the aspirational limit on global temperature rise. This came after island states argued that 1.5C was essential for their survival while big powers declared that 2C was the moderate and reasonable target.
- Normalizing net zero- net zero emissions rapidly become a trending word in 2020, with China, Japan, and South Korea joining the EU and UK in setting neutrality goals.
- Clean energy shift- the Paris Agreement sent the signal that triggered the financing landscape to shift decisively in favor of clean energy. More and more nations and firms are slowly shifting and investing in clean energy.
- Institutional change- the Paris Agreement has set the stage where more institutions, from financial regulators and city authorities, are embedding the Agreement’s target and principles in their policies, therefore, generating new avenues for accountability.
Looking into these achievements, one can indisputably argue that the United States missed out on most of them since they were out of the deal.
What does the future look like?
With a new administration in the US, the future has never been brighter. During the campaign period, President Joe Biden pledged to rejoin the country back to the Paris Agreement. And true to his word, on his first day as the US president, Joe Biden formally started off the 30-day process of rejoining the US back to the Paris Agreement. President Joe Biden’s move is good for Americans and the future of their children and for the rebuilding of diplomatic relations that the former President had destroyed.