It’s official: The U.S. is out of the Paris Climate Accord. Though President Trump first announced his plan back in June 2017 and formalized it last year, the process wasn’t complete until midnight last night.
The agreement, which countries signed at a United Nations summit five years ago, aims to keep global warming “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels. The pact is hugely imperfect—it’s full of loopholes that benefit polluting companies and it’s not binding—but the U.S. leaving it is still a big deal. After all, its pledged emissions cuts accounted for about 20 percent of global reductions projected from the international agreement. The U.S. is also the biggest source of historical carbon emissions, giving it a unique moral responsibility to lead.
If Trump wins a second term, the nation will almost certainly stay out of the climate treaty. That’s bad news for global carbon pollution, and it could also hurt Americans domestically. It will give the federal government license to lock us into relying even more on fossil fuel infrastructure. That will expose Americans to pollution, particularly since the Trump administration has rolled back so many regulations. Long-term, it could also tie the U.S. to subsidized, failing extractive industries instead of allowing us to reap the benefits of the new, green economy. Some European countries have also threatened to levy carbon tariffs against all nations with subpar climate goals, which would mean it would cost the U.S. big bucks to import their foreign goods.
If Democratic nominee Joe Biden pulls through and wins the presidential election, he’s promised to re-enter the Paris Accord. Though it took years to withdraw from it, thankfully the process to rejoin the agreement would take just 30 days.
Even without the federal government’s support, a group of American entities, including states, cities, and companies have committed to the Paris Agreement’s goals. The organization America’s Pledge, which was founded by former California Gov. Jerry Brown and former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, has calculated that that coalition represents 70% of the nation’s gross domestic product. Doing their share to honor the U.S. Paris Agreement commitments would reduce U.S. aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 19% from 2005 levels by 2025. For context, though, under the treaty, the U.S. committed to cutting overall greenhouse gas emissions by between 26 and 28% below 2005 levels by 2025. But research indicates that even that pledge was far from ambitious enough to meet the overall climate goals of the accord. By 2030, that reduction the various entities have committed could reduce carbon emissions up to 37% from 2005 levels so there’s some signs things could ratchet up over this decade even with four more lost years. But without federal support, it will be all the more difficult.
But May Boeve, executive director at 350.org, said the world shouldn’t despair, because climate organizers are ready to fight that uphill battle and fight to end the reign of the climate-warming fossil-based energy. Polls also show the majority of Americans want climate action.
“Whatever the final result of the election, don’t count the United States out,” she said in a statement. “Despite the U.S. federal government officially leaving the Paris Agreement, there are millions of Americans who reject this regression, are committed to climate justice, and are demanding that the US as a whole—including cities, states and banks—uphold the goals of Paris and go beyond. We must redouble our efforts and focus on bringing down the pillars of support of the fossil fuel economy in the US and globally and fight for our right to a clean, safe, abundant and just future.”