Staying in the Paris Climate Agreement

This June, President Donald Trump announced that the U.S. will be leaving the Paris Climate Agreement. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) passed the Agreement in 2015, and 195 countries pledged to the deal, including the U.S. under former president Barack Obama.

However, because of legal processes put in place by the UNFCCC, the U.S. will not be officially withdrawn from the Paris Agreement until Nov. 4, 2020, one day after the next presidential election in the U.S. The next administration will either finalize or reverse President Trump’s decision.

The UNFCCC, founded in 1992, has historically placed most of the financial responsibility on developed countries like the U.S., France and Germany. The Paris Agreement was specifically designed to encourage developing countries, like China and India, to contribute.

When the U.S. entered the Paris Agreement, the Obama administration pledged to pay $3 billion to the UNFCCC’s Green Climate Fund and to cut carbon emissions by 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. The U.S.’s pledge was one of the largest, and to achieve it, the Obama administration passed the Clean Power Plan to reduce coal and fossil fuel production and invest in alternative energy sources.

Those who oppose the Agreement believe it is unfair to the U.S. and will take American jobs. However, the Paris Agreement does not set any goals, restrictions or obligations for any country. Each does this for itself. Therefore, this argument is actually directed towards Obama’s pledge, not the Paris Agreement. The Paris Agreement was written to outlive the Obama administration and can be adjusted to accommodate a more conservative administration such as Trump’s or any that follow.

It is true that the Clean Power Plan would temporarily cause a negative impact on coal miners and fossil fuel producers. However, the plan will ultimately create more jobs than it displaces. The U.S. Department of Energy’s 2016 report says that only 22 percent of Americans working in energy are employed by coal or fossil fuel production while the growing solar energy industry employs 43 percent of energy workers. Solar energy is projected to grow and traditional energy production jobs are projected to dwindle as more machinery slowly replaces workers with or without the Clean Power Plan.

Proponents of staying in the Paris Agreement argue it is imperative for the U.S. to maintain global respect. One month after President Trump’s announcement, he attended the Group of Twenty, or G20, Summit in Hamburg, Germany. The second most discussed topic at the summit was the U.S.’s withdrawal from the Agreement and its implications for U.S. participation in international diplomacy. German Chancellor Angela Merkel publicly called the U.S. leaving the Agreement “deplorable,” and other leaders expressed similar disapproval. The U.S. has historically benefitted from its international influence, and many believe loss of respect will make it difficult for the U.S. to accomplish anything on the global stage.

Many believe it is immoral for the U.S. to withdraw. While China was first in carbon emissions in 2016, the U.S. alone is responsible for one-third of the excess carbon in the atmosphere. The Paris Agreement does not ask the U.S. to do more than other developed countries, but a prevalent argument for staying in the Agreement is that the U.S. has a moral obligation to participate in mitigating the effects of climate change.

Most Americans are in favor of taking steps to preserve the environment, and many believe that the Paris Agreement is the right way to do so. Thus, several states have committed to reach the U.S.’s Paris Agreement commitments whether or not the U.S. is officially involved.

Within the past 25 years, the Paris Agreement has been the only climate change plan written to promote sustainability and global safety in achievable terms for all 195 nations involved. The arguments to stay in the Agreement claim the consequences of neglecting climate change and international diplomacy would have a far greater impact than the benefits of withdrawing from it.

Photo Courtesy of NPR.

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