Jonny Rogers reveals how the U.S. presidential election may have changed the discourse on climate change.
Photo by Ruben Ramirez
Last Thursday, the U.S. formally left the Paris Climate Agreement, three years after President Trump’s announcement of their intention to do so. However, president-elect Joe Biden has declared that the nation will re-join the forum on his first day in the White House.
The Paris Agreement was established to co-ordinate a global response to climate change, aiming to minimise the global temperature rise to below two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and to further work towards a rise of just 1.5 degrees Celsius. Although first proposed in 2015, the deal only came into power in November 2016 after 55 countries, representing 55% of global emissions, had approved of it.
“The Paris Agreement builds upon the Convention and for the first time brings all nations 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. As such, it charts a new course in the global climate effort.”
– the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (U.N.F.C.C.C.)
A Temporary Withdrawal
The terms of the Agreement stated that no country could withdraw within three years of their initial participation, which Obama approved only four days before Donald Trump beat Hilary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election. However, as members also had to serve a 12-month notice period before the withdrawal could be formally approved by the U.N., the U.S. could not pull out of the agreement before last week.
In 2017, Trump explained his withdrawal from the deal by declaring that it was an “unfair economic burden” to their economy, claiming that it could “cost America as much as 2.7 million jobs by 2025”, and “close to $3 trillion lost in GDP,” as well as put the country at 'grave risk' of power shortages. He also promoted scepticism towards the reality of climate change, or otherwise attempted to avoid clearly talking about it.
The decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement received criticism both from within and outside the U.S., with many arguing that Trump’s decision was founded on unsubstantiated claims and questionable data. Michael Brune, the executive director of the Sierra Club, said that “long after Trump is out of office, his decision to withdraw… will be seen as a historic error.”
However, some have argued that the nation’s withdrawal was in part a response to Obama’s failure to approve the Paris Agreement by the U.S. Senate. Yvo De Boer, the former Executive Secretary of the U.N.F.C.C.C., called Obama’s decision to sign the agreement via executive order a ‘fundamentally undemocratic’ decision.
Nevertheless, the U.S. is responsible for 14-15% of all global carbon dioxide emissions, while representing only 4% of the world’s total population. In 2012, climate journalist Tim De Chant estimated that it would require the combined resources of more than four Earths to sustain such consumption if every country operated with the same patterns as America.
Andrew Light, a former climate change official in the Obama administration, feared that the withdrawal would hurt the country’s reputation. In May 2017, Nicaragua refused to sign the Paris Agreement in part because larger countries such as the U.S. and China are disproportionally more responsible for climate change: Nicaragua, by contrast, produces only 0.03% of global emissions. However, a few months later, President Ortega announced that Nicaragua would in fact join the Paris Agreement, leaving the U.S. and Syria as the only two countries who would not participate (at the time).
A Green Future?
With the announcement that Joe Biden will become the 46th President of the United States of America, the discourse on climate change is now heading in a new direction. ‘The Biden Promise’ has clearly stated that humanity’s “contribution to the greenhouse effect is indisputable,” citing evidence from NASA: climate change is ‘Science, Not Fiction’.
In addition to re-joining the Paris Agreement, Biden’s climate and environmental justice proposal includes a $1.7 trillion federal investment in clean energy infrastructure over the next decade; funded in part by reversing Trump’s tax incentives for corporations.
The World Resources Institute has suggested 10 ‘Priority Actions’ for Biden to curb climate change in America: a plan which includes cutting total emissions by 45-50% by 2030, requiring new passenger vehicles to produce zero emissions by 2035, and the taxation of carbon pollution.
If Biden’s plan lives up to its claims, the world’s second largest carbon dioxide producer will achieve 100% clean energy and net-zero emissions by 2050.
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