Published On : Fri, Jun 2nd, 2017

What is the Paris Agreement?

“We’re getting out.” It was with these words that Donald Trump signified the United States’ break from the Paris Agreement​.

In a statement from the Rose Garden in Washington DC, Trump announced that the United States would be withdrawing its support from the Accord, but would begin negotiations to re-enter the Paris Agreement or an “entirely new transaction” that would be more “fair” to the U.S economy.

“As someone who cares deeply about the environment, I cannot in good conscience support [the deal],” Trump said, noting that the Paris Agreement was blocking the development of clean coal in America.

In 2016, the Paris Agreement marked a turning point in the battle against climate change. World leaders from across the globe united for the first time in history to legally ratify action against pollution through the United Nations Framework Convention. Throughout his presidential campaign, however, Donald Trump had promised to reverse the United States’ green energy policies.

Trump’s decision goes against the urgings of the EU and the Chinese government, which both solidified their commitment to the deal in light of the United States’ decision. Several prominent US firms, including Microsoft, Apple, Google and Facebook, also pleaded with Trump to remain in the agreement.

What is the Paris Agreement?

The ultimate purpose of the Paris Agreement was to strengthen the global response to climate change by creating an international network of government bodies, all dedicated to lowering emissions. Syria and Nicaragua were the only countries who did not join the Agreement.

Those who did pledged to work towards a long-term goal of keeping the increase in global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, ideally aiming to limit the increase to 1.5°C. This level of temperature change may sound insignificant, but would, in fact, put massive strain on food production, clean water sources and energy production.

If everyone abides by the Paris Agreement, what could it achieve?

Keeping the temperature rise to 1.5°C would significantly reduce the risks and the impacts associated with climate change. The rising temperatures are the result of anthropogenic activity – human pollution trapped in the atmosphere that alters the natural functions of the climate. Countries across the world, such as China, the United Kingdom, Egypt, France and Germany, pledged to make rapid reductions to their infrastructure policies in accordance with the best available science, in the hopes of reducing their overall emissions to a long-term goal of zero-net emissions overall – carbon neutrality.

How is it being enforced?

A significant element of reduced emission policies was the focus on climate taxes on companies. Simply put, the world’s worst polluters would be financially accountable for their chemical contribution to climate change. The greater the polluter, the higher the cost – the typical rate set at $150 per tonne of CO2. These rates, designed to improve the quality of air whilst simultaneously creating a new source of revenue, contradict Trump’s focus on industrial expansion.

So, why exactly does Trump want to leave the Paris Agreement?

Having famously stated that climate change is a “hoax”, Trump promises to resurrect the United States’ mining industry, creating a new avenue through which to reverse not only the evolution of modern economies, but the hopes for cleaner air, rivers and lakes across the United States.

Speculation had been rife as to whether Trump would pull out of the Paris Agreement. Trump openly criticised Obama’s Clean Power Plans (CPP) throughout his presidential campaign, and promised to retract the sway of the green movement in the United States. CPP was designed to cut the power industry’s carbon emissions by 32 per cent by 2030, a vital step towards the Paris Agreement’s goals.

In light of changes to the Environmental Protection Agency, with climate change denier Scott Pruitt now at the helm, the EPA’s webpages relating to climate change have either been altered since the Obama administration or have disappeared entirely.

Those who expressed concern over the situation include Elon Musk, cofounder of Tesla and SpaceX, who said he’s leaving Trump’s economic and manufacturing advisory councils due to the decision.

Furthermore, Apple CEO Tim Cook also reportedly made a call to the White House on May 31 to try to convince Trump to remain in the Paris Agreement, but to no avail.

How do we know if the other 196 UNFCCC members are on track?

The international framework of the Paris Agreement had a key focus on transparency. It ensures the public has insight into the actions being taken against climate change. This transparency comes in the form of meetings every five years to adjust plans according to new science and technologies. Governing bodies in attendance can also relay any issues to one another, and the public is given the opportunity to engage in this dialogue. This process ensured accountability.

The framework also gives countries with stronger GDPs the chance to help structure the plans of other countries at different stages of development. This was a point of contention during the negotiations, and was moved into the non-legal framework – largely due to the United States’ and a Republican-controlled senate that would not push through a cash pledge to developing countries.

What have been the results of the agreement to date?

Five years ago India, one of the countries to sign the Paris Agreement, had an economy largely driven by coal. It has now made significant steps towards adopting solar energy and recently scrapped 13.7 GW of planned coal power projects. These shifts towards renewable energy can be seen in stark contrast to the United States’ current position.

At the time of its ratification, the Paris Agreement drew unprecedented attention to climate change issues. Since 2016, a consensus of published climate scientists found that 97 per cent agreed climate change was caused by anthropogenic activity. Having a strong scientific foundation to stand upon, the framework put in place by the Paris Agreement was a vital link between the facts presented by science and the power of politics to address the issues they revealed.

So, we’re on our way to saving the Earth?!

Not exactly. A report published earlier this year found that climate change had pushed the Earth into uncharted territory, with glacial melting in Antarctica at higher rates than had been previously anticipated, raging forest fires across the United States and Australia, and other extreme climate events on a dizzying rise. In short, the climate change problem is surpassing that of a crisis point – and needs mitigation through a binding legal framework.

The Paris Agreement was an assurance of these changes – a way to hold countries accountable for future generations and the needs of a changing world. It stipulated a need for strategies to reduce the loss and damage induced by climate change through new warning systems, emergency preparedness strategies and risk insurance for climatological events that would adversely affect the global economy. While no financial claims could be made by countries against one another for the effects of climate change, it held the greatest polluters to a new standard.

What happens if the US does withdraw?

It will take four years for any country to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. It means that the United States would only be legally removed from the Agreement once Trump’s presidency had ended, creating a high level of uncertainty around the country’s future environmental policies. If the US were to pull out of the UN’s climate body – the UNFCCC – however, it could remove itself from the agreement in just one year.

Currently, there is no sign other countries will follow suit. China, a strong supporter of the stipulations set about by the Paris Agreement has maintained its commitment.

Looking towards the future, it is certain that this decision will take a toll on environmental health. Pollution flourished during the industrial revolution, when the links between carbon emissions and climate change were unknown and uncared for. Now, climate change is at a new crossroads – and the march of progress looks set to shift once again