US president Donald Trump has pulled the US out of the Paris Agreement on climate change, the agreement that almost every country in the world adopted in December 2015.
There will however be no penalty for leaving, with the Paris deal based upon the premise of voluntary emissions reductions. The US will now join Syria and Nicaragua as the only countries not party to the Paris agreement.
The US president told press in the White House rose garden on Thursday:
In order to fulfil my solemn duty to the United States and its citizens, the US will withdraw from the Paris climate accord, but begin negotiations to re-enter either the Paris accords or a really entirely new transaction, on terms that are fair to the United States. We will start to negotiate, and we will see if we can make a deal that’s fair. If we can, that’s great. If we can’t, that’s fine.
Leaders around the reacted with dismay that Trump will withdraw from the agreement and the decision also attracted criticism from the scientific community.
I [Trump] was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.
Italy, France and Germany issued a joint statement shortly after Trump’s speech saying they believed the treaty could not be renegotiated.
Throughout his presidential campaign Trump said he would take the US out of the deal if he were elected, labelling it as bad for the US.
Withdrawing from the agreement demonstrates his commitment to an American First governing policy.
Rumours have been coming out of the administration for the past few months that Trump would withdraw, or at least dramatically alter the agreement.
Back in February, the former head of the US president’s transition team at the Environmental Protection agency (EPA) warned that Trump was set to pull out of the Paris Agreement on climate change.
What is the Paris Agreement?
The Paris Agreement was a landmark decision by 197 countries to agree to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The main goal of the agreement is to keep the increase in global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels.
This requires countries to rapidly reduce their emissions as well as attaining sustainable methods of ensuring the temperature does not rise above 1.5°C in order to reduce the signs and impacts of climate change.
Trump had said throughout his campaign that he would pull out the US from the agreement, before telling the New York Times in November: “I’m looking at it very closely. I have an open mind to it.”
In addition, he campaigned on an ‘America First Energy Plan’, that focused on developing domestic energy resources, particularly fossil fuels like coal and oil.
A report from Chatham House on America’s international role under Donald Trump suggests that even if he moderates his campaign promises, “a less obstructive approach would still mean that the US, the world’s second-largest emitter of carbon, falls short of the ambitious action required to meet global climate targets.”
Now he’s decided to leave – what happens next?
Withdrawing the US from the Paris Agreement isn’t as straightforward as Trump simply stating he wants out.
Under Article 28 of the agreement, all countries who ratified the agreement, such as the US, would need to give at least three years notice to withdraw, and the withdrawal process itself will take another year to complete.
Looking at this time frame, the US ratified the agreement on 3 September 2016.
“The earliest president Trump could complete withdrawal of the US from the Paris Agreement is 4 November 2020 – that is the day after the next presidential election in the US,” Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on climate change and the environment, at the London School of Economics (LSE), told Verdict.
So theoretically, the US couldn’t officially be removed from the conditions of the agreement until 2020. Would the country still have to abide by the rules before it officially leaves?
According to Professor Corinne Le Quéré, director of the Tyndall Centre for climate change research and professor at the school of environmental sciences at the University of East Anglia (UEA), yes.
However, there are some critical points.
“All the commitments for the countries [to abide by] are not until 2025 or 2030 – depending on the countries. Without officially being out of the agreement, they could essentially do nothing,” said Le Quéré.
“What it could do on the other hand, which at the moment legally is unclear, is to pull out of the United Nations Framework Convention of Change (UNFCCC). They’re the UN body that regulates the Paris Agreement,” she told Verdict. “So if they decided to pull out of the convention altogether, then there’s the possibility that they would be sooner out of the Paris Agreement.”
How will this affect climate change policy across the world?
In the Chatham House report, it stated that if Trump does withdraw the US from the agreement, it could “undermine the globally coordinate efforts and institutions designed to combat climate change.”
Ward doesn’t think though that this means other countries would follow suit.
“The Paris Agreement has huge, perhaps unprecedented, international will behind it. At present 127 parties have ratified it The withdrawal of the United States, the world’s second-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, would be a serious blow, but other countries are likely to carry on anyway.”
However, when the US pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol in 2001 under George Bush’s leadership, other countries followed suit, including Canada.
The anticipation of Trump’s climate change policy is worrying for campaigners across the globe due to its position as the world’s second biggest emitter after China. “But I think what matters more is what is going to happen at the level of the United States,” said Le Quéré. “It is one thing to sign an international agreement; it is another thing to regulate within your own country.”
In particular, if the US stops investing in renewable energy and starts to focus more on fossil fuels, Le Quéré believes this could be more damaging.
“The support or lack of support for renewable energy and for energy efficiency will make a difference because the US is very innovative – a lot of the innovation in battery storage for example and innovation in efficiency and appliances, have come from the US.”
Ultimately, it is still difficult at this stage to predict Trump’s policies because they have changed back and forth in the past. Ward thinks the Paris Agreement will main on the US agenda: “Rex Tillerson, who has been appointed as Secretary of State, stated during his confirmation hearing in the Senate that he thinks it would be better for the United States to “have a seat at the table”.
And the backlash from the international community could be huge. “At the World Economic Forum in January Chinese President Xi Jinping said it was a ‘hard won achievement’ and that we have a global responsibility to future generations to tackle climate change,” said Ward. “If President Trump withdraws the United States from the Paris Agreement, it would become isolated on the world stage and find it far more difficult to gain the cooperation of other countries.”