Climate Change: Facing the Threat Alone

During the 2016 presidential election, a plethora of promises were made by the Trump campaign. Of the boldest of them was to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement. The agreement, which was signed in December of 2015, was a nonbinding treaty made between 195 nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. On June 1, 2017, in front of the White House’s sunny lawn, the Trump Campaign’s promise was made into a reality. As noted by Stewart M. Patrick of the Council on Foreign Relations, withdrawal from the climate agreement will not ‘Make America Great Again,’ but threaten national security and sabotage global leadership. Climate change is a threat that does not respect borders, and by isolating itself, the U.S. faces a greater challenge in combatting it.

The agreement, which was a successor to the failed Kyoto Protocol, had 20 years of negotiations behind it. At the resolve of the Obama administration, the treaty was crafted as a voluntary agreement, as opposed to a binding treaty. A “pledge and review” arrangement was set up where each country stated its “intentionally determined contribution” (INDC) to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This was done in part so that each country’s pledge was tailored to its national circumstances, instead of creating a blanket agreement for all countries involved.

The U.S. and China, the world’s two largest emitters, were at the forefront of the agreement. The withdrawal of the U.S. not only weakens U.S. credibility, but creates space for China to assume more power. With the absence of the U.S., China is given a leading role in addressing global environmental issues. In addition, it is given a chance to dominate the future of clean technology. Furthermore, the exit of the U.S. encourages other countries to delay the implementation of their INDC’s, or to back out of the agreement as a whole.

The world has already looked towards U.S. private corporations, U.S. states and cities, and other major emitters to pick up the fight against climate change. Just after the announcement of President Trump to withdraw from the agreement, Governor Jerry Brown of California committed to getting other states and cities to abide by the rules of the agreement. Hope now lays with the American business community also, who is not likely to make long term deals in dirty technology, and the idea that a future administration will reverse Trump’s policies and go for a low-carbon future.

-Nena Beecham, World Affairs Council Intern

Photo: The Independent