In June, President Trump announced his intent to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, leaving the U.S. as one of three countries wanting to be on the outside of the global agreement to fight climate change.
On Tuesday, Trump became the only world leader to not want to be part of the deal, as Syria—the only other remaining holdout after Nicaragua joined over the summer—announced its intentions to join the agreement.
“With the U.S. now standing alone as the only country questioning the legitimacy of the Paris Agreement, there’s a leadership vacuum that other countries can and will fill,” Shyla Raghav, the climate change lead at Conservation International, told Earther. “It means that the U.S. may not be part of shaping important global climate change policies as the world moves ahead.”
Syria, you may recall, is the in grips of a civil war that has left millions displaced or dead, but apparently it’s still worried enough about climate change to actually commit to do something. The failed state announced it would join the agreement, which aims to hold global temperatures to below 2°C, at the annual COP international climate talks currently happening in Bonn, Germany.
Though the U.S. signed the deal as well (under Obama), Trump considers it a raw deal, and he wants out. It’s the exact opposite reaction world leaders should have, and one underscored on Monday at the opening of the climate talks, hosted by the small island nation of Fiji this time around
“All over the world, vast numbers of people are suffering—bewildered by the forces ranged against them,” Frank Bainimarama, Fiji’s prime minister, said. “Our job as leaders is to respond to the suffering with all means available to us. This means to meet our commitments in full, not back away from them.”
Other countries are taking up that call even if the U.S. isn’t. Nicaragua originally didn’t join because the agreement was too weak in their eyes (and make no mistake, it is, but by design).
“It’s a not a matter of being trouble makers, it’s a matter of the developing countries surviving,” Paul Oquist, Nicaragua’s chief negotiator during the 2015 Paris talks, told Climate Home at the time.
They signed on last month, though, because its the best chance the world has to come together to fight climate change.
With Syria’s commitment, the U.S. is left alone as the ultimate Bond villain, all by itself on the world stage as the only country wanting out of the first equitable international agreement to address climate change in years. Trump’s announcement to leave the Paris Agreement, like most other announcements he makes, was littered with falsehoods and half truths, including that the agreement put undue burden on the U.S.
It doesn’t. The agreement is founded on the concept of “common but differentiated responsibilities,” namely that each country should commit to solving climate change or helping other countries impacted based on their means.
Syria’s commitment will likely be negligible because its greenhouse gas emissions are 0.15 percent of the world’s total emissions according to World Bank data. But for a country locked in civil war—one which has been linked to a drought fueled by climate change—and facing a rebuild upwards of $200 billion, it’s a huge deal to even be part of the agreement.
It makes the utter disengagement of the Trump administration look even more pathetic, but it doesn’t erase the reality that the Assad regime has slaughtered, bombed and nerve gassed its citizens for six years.
“The move isolates the Trump administration further (Nicaragua joined a few weeks ago), but I would be cautious about praising the Syrian government for anything given the blood on their hands,” Erika Rosenthal, a lawyer with Earthjustice, told Earther in an email.
In contrast, the U.S. is the richest country in the world and far and away the largest historical carbon polluter on the planet (it’s currently the second-largest annual carbon emitter, trailing only China). It has the means to do a lot to reduce emissions and help climate-impacted countries like Syria prepare for a hotter future. Any sane person can also see that it has the moral imperative to do so as the biggest cause of the existential problem currently on track to render our home into a scorching hellscape.
And for my eggheads out there, it’s also clear we’re running out of time. You can only kick the climate change can down the road for so long before the can kicks back. And there are signs it already is. Look no further than this hurricane season, the wildfire flames that engulfed the world from California to Portugal, or the fact that the world has had its hottest year on record for three straight years.
Now is the exact time when efforts should be ramping up and not down. The Paris Agreement is nowhere near enough to stave off the worst impacts of climate change, but it was always designed to be just a start to more aggressive action.
The Trump administration gives no fucks about any of that, though. Its policies are designed to extract every last bit of fossil fuels out of the ground and prop up a dying industry at the expense of current and future generations.
The U.S. was already the only government in the world to deny climate change. And now with Syria’s signature on the Paris Agreement, its the only government trying to do less than the bare minimum to avoid a catastrophe.
This post has been updated with quotes from Shyla Raghav and Erika Rosenthal.