Why It's So Important for the US to Recommit to the Paris Agreement
The announcement, in June 2017, that the US would be leaving the Paris Agreement sparked outrage across the country and around the world – and for good reason.
The 2015 agreement – a breakthrough deal signed by every nation in the world to cut greenhouse gas emissions and together limit global warming – is the most ambitious global climate agreement the world has ever seen.
It represented a critical step in our fight, a door opening to the future we actually wanted.
And then one day at the beginning of June, it all went away – except that it didn’t.
Because of procedural rules, the earliest possible date for the US to truly withdraw was always November 4, 2020. One day after the presidential election. Interesting coincidence, no?
Now, with historic numbers of Americans turning out to choose a new president-elect and vice president-elect, we have the chance to begin to set things right and re-enter this historic accord.
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As a country, we’ve got a tradition of standing up for what’s right and the values that make us who we are. We put our money where our mouth is, admit when we’ve made a mistake, and don’t retreat from a tough fight.
The climate fight might be the toughest one of all. But with the Paris Agreement once again guiding the US alongside its allies across the world, it’s a fight we can and will win. The overwhelming majority of Americans are with us on this. According to preliminary estimates from exit polls 66 percent of 2020 voters agreed that climate change is a serious problem.
That’s why President-elect Joe Biden must re-enter the agreement on day one of his administration.
WHAT IS THE PARIS AGREEMENT?
At COP 21 in December 2015 in Paris, France, the world agreed on one primary, overarching goal: to limit “global temperature increase to well below 2 degrees Celsius, while pursuing efforts to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees.”
To get there – and achieve a number of other goals along the way – each country committed to nationally determined contributions (NDCs) spelling out how much it would cut its greenhouse gas emissions by and by when. Many also included commitments to other steps to fight climate change.
The critical part of NDCs is that they gave each country the flexibility to tailor its climate action plan to its own unique circumstances. And importantly, a review mechanism is built in requiring countries to ramp up their commitments and submit new, more ambitious ones every five years.
The agreement entered into force – aka the compulsory elements of the agreement became binding on the parties who had ratified it – on November 4, 2016. After decades of international climate negotiations, beginning with the creation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, we finally had the world's first truly global climate action plan ready to go.
Then, just months later, things changed. Delivering on a campaign promise he had made, on June 1, 2017, President Donald Trump announced the United States’ intent to withdraw from the historic accord.
Of the decision, Climate Reality’s President and CEO Ken Berlin said at the time:
“Today is a dark day for the millions of people around the world who have rallied around the noble and necessary goal of ending the climate crisis. The Trump Administration’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement is selfish and shortsighted and sends a very clear message: the profits of the fossil fuel industry and the multimillion dollar bonuses afforded to their chief executives matter more than humanity’s shared future on the planet. The Paris Agreement is a testament to the broad international consensus on climate action. To its own detriment and the detriment of other nations, the US is giving up both its seat at the table and its leadership role in the world.”
WHY GETTING BACK IN MATTERS
Like Ken said, the announcement that the US would be leaving the Paris Agreement meant we would lose our seat at the table – and with it, the ability to be a voice on behalf of American companies and workers. All at a time when a planet-wide shift away from fossil fuels is underway that will redefine markets and shape the twenty-first century and beyond.
Already, wind and solar power alone are expected to attract over $11 trillion in investments by 2050. That any administration could look at those numbers and not just walk away, but scoff at the very notions underlying their development, suggests a serious lack of scientific literacy and economic foresight – as well as a failure of empathy for the millions suffering the effects of the climate crisis right now … and the billions more who would endure them down the road.
And never mind that the agreement itself has always been quite popular – so know that if you wanted the White House to remain part of the Paris Agreement all along, you’re not alone. Survey after survey showed that the overwhelming majority of Americans – roughly 70 percent of registered voters in 2016, in fact – support the agreement.
At a time when Americans don’t agree about much of anything, this is meaningful.
With scientists clear that we need an urgent, unified global response to the climate crisis – indeed, that the current NDCs in the Paris Agreement aren’t even enough to meet the 2 degrees of warming or less target – there’s no question that without the world’s No. 2 emitter in the conversation, the United States, and the broader world, are a whole lot less safe and secure than they should be.
Recommitting to the Paris Agreement is the only way to re-join the global conversation about the future of the planet – and be a player in the economy of tomorrow.
It’s Time to Act
After four dark years of environmental deregulation, assaults on science, and climate denial from the highest office in the land, we can finally expect to see action at the federal level on the climate crisis.
But we can’t take action for granted. This still won’t be easy – but the opportunity for change has never been greater.
And it starts now. With a sprint to make climate action the top priority of the new administration and get Americans working to rebuild our country with clean energy and build the future we want for us all.
Because now it’s time to act. So let’s get to work. To rebuilding America even better with the green jobs, efficient buildings, and climate smart roads and infrastructure that can put Americans to work, create healthy communities, and help avoid the worst of climate change.