A few months ago, President Donald Trump shook the world with the announcement of the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, immediately raising questions over the long term viability of the agreement and magnitude of such a decision. Does the Paris Agreement need the United States in order to survive in the long term ? Merely a year has passed since the agreement was conceived and such a sudden change in direction from the United States puts the entire initiative in jeopardy.
What is the Paris Agreement ?
The Paris agreement arose from the will of a plurality of nations from all continents, coming together in synchrony to fight climate change. With only Syria and Nicaragua not signing the agreement, it is a powerful all encompassing global agreement created as a result of the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference. Unlike its successor the Kyoto Protocol, the Paris agreement is made of voluntary, non-binding agreements. Its power rests on the willingness of each state and their sense of a collective purpose and responsibility to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A clear mandate is made in the fight against greenhouse gas emissions, in which signatories are encouraged to take steps in diminishing dependency on non sustainable energy sources such as coal and oil while investing in the development of clean energy sources such as wind and solar. Unfortunately the USA’s commitment to the Paris Agreement seems to have taken an end under Trump’s presidency.
The coal industry
The United States benefit from an important supply of natural resources. More specifically, it has the most extensive reserves of coal in the world; historically symbolizing an era of economic boom and prosperity. Today, the coal industry is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the United States. Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, led a strong policy against coal, referred to as the “War or Coal” by the supporters of the Coal Industry. This “War on Coal”, led by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), aimed at promoting the development of clean renewable energy while cutting down reliance on the coal industry. Trump’s coming to power put an end to the EPA and the world’s efforts to lessen Co2 emissions by stepping out of Obama’s previous policy and the Paris Agreement. This decision was made in a context where the newly elected president based his campaign promises on remnants of a golden era filled with coal jobs, in which neither the President himself nor his administration believes in the existence of global warming; where no considerations for the fact that the USA are amongst the top global polluter were taken into account.
What now ?
On a national level, Trump’s withdrawal means increased cuts to the Environment Protection Agency thereby weakening the Clean Power Plan, a plan that had the potential to decrease greenhouse gas emissions by 1billion tons by 2030. Researchers believe that the withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Agreement would lead to an increase of “3billions tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year”. In short, alarming environmental repercussions are to be expected . Furthermore, direct global implications make it even harder to predict due to the possible “domino effect” that the United States withdrawal might have on other member states. Some researchers fear the departure of an important Co2 emitter on other big emitters, as well as smaller nations, might discourage their efforts to lower their gas emissions. On the other hand, others believe that the withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Agreement is a beneficial action. The G7 countries expressed their willingness to further their efforts towards lesser Co2 emissions despite the departure of the United States.
International environmental policy expert Luke Kemp underlines the fact that “the US and the Trump Administration can do more damage inside the agreement that outside it[…]”. Indeed, the members of the Paris Agreement are “all united by these common desires” towards a healthier planet; yet this is no longer the case of the United States. Thus, the USA should no longer be welcomed as a member of the Paris Agreement.
Furthermore, the foundations of the Paris Agreement are strengthened by the recent coming together of Europe and China as allies in the fight against greenhouse gas emissions. The withdrawal of the United States marks the opportunity for China to play a leading role in the development of clean source of energy, with a 360$ billion investment by 2020. While the United States withdrew from the agreement in the hope for more jobs in the coal industry for its population, China “where coal is – or was – king […] recognizes that the economic opportunities of the future are going to be in clean energy”. Indeed, this historical promise for the decrease of greenhouse gas emissions, is also going to lead to the creation of 13 million jobs in the sector of renewable energy. This massive investment extends to the rest of Asia, Middle East as well as East Africa where Chinese companies will implement massive clean energy projects
Thus, we can still hope, despite Trump’s decision to leave the Paris Agreement, that the environmental future of our planet remains positive. Although important efforts still need to be sustained, the cohesion of the European countries in addition to the tremendous political and economic investment of China in renewable energy could be a sign of hope.
*Picture credited to Daniel Lerpes (cc)