Today, 4th of November, 2020, the United States of America’s withdrawal from Paris Climate Agreement is scheduled to take effect. Although the US is the second-largest GHG emitter and the largest economy in the world, there is a reason for hope in this seemingly gloomy situation
On December 12, 2015, parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) reached a landmark agreement in Paris on tackling climate change, which has seen been known as the Paris Agreement.
The goal of the Agreement is to limit global temperature rise well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. It also aims to enhance the capability of member countries to cope with the changing climate.
Within a year of the agreement, 55 countries that account for at least 55 percent of global emissions ratified the document, and on 4 November 2016, the agreement came into force.
The Paris Agreement had opened for signature on 22 April 2016 and the US signed the document on the same day. On 3 Sep 2016, the country deposited its instrument of acceptance.
And then came Donald Trump.
During the 2016 US election, the presidential candidate called climate change a hoax; a device to weaken the competitiveness of the US in the global market. He promised to withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement.
After getting elected, President Trump proposed the America First Energy Plan instead, with a view to re-stimulating the fossil fuel industry. On June 1, 2017, Donald Trump announced his decision to pull the US out of the Paris Agreement.
According to Article 28 of the agreement, a party can give written notification of withdrawal only after three years from the date on which this Agreement has entered into force for that Party. For the United States, it was November 4, 2016.
The article further stipulates that such withdrawal shall take effect after one year from the date of receipt of the notification of withdrawal, or on a later date as specified in the notification.
On November 4, 2019, three years after the agreement entered into force, the US administration gave formal notification of withdrawal. As it takes 12 months to take effect, the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement will be effective from today.
The possible impact of the withdrawal on the US
The stated reason behind the withdrawal of the US was President Trump's fear that the Paris Agreement would impose unacceptable costs on the country's economy and give unfair advantages to other growing economies like China and India.
Trump hopes to expand the US fossil fuel industry and create energy-related jobs by decreasing regulation.
However, many economists are doubtful about this expectation, and several economic analyses question whether leaving the agreement will be a win in the long run. Some are projecting that investing in clean energy industries could eventually offer more jobs than fossil energy industries. On the other hand, climate change can impose huge costs on the economy.
This policy will possibly hurt US hegemony as well.
Some argue that this would help China fill the leadership vacuum, which is already seemingly forging a new alliance with the European Union to advance common climate policies without the United States.
The possible impact of the withdrawal outside the US
In Paris Climate Agreement, nations agreed to cut their greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep rising global temperatures in check. As the US' divorce with the deal materialises, the country will obtain more room to emit carbon while other countries will have to cut down more on their emissions to be able to reach the goal of limiting global temperature rise as envisioned in the agreement.
This, in theory, might even discourage other industrialised countries from pursuing emission cut goals, which can potentially affect their competitiveness in the global market.
Hope hasn't faded away
The US is the second-largest GHG emitter and the largest economy in the world. Absence of federal policies in favour of emission cut will remain a concern for a warming planet.
However, there are many other factors at play.
Due to constant technological advancement, renewable energy is becoming cheaper every year, facilitating the phasing out of fossil fuel.
According to an InsideClimate News report, Greenhouse gas emissions in the United States dropped last year after a sharp increase in 2018. There is a long-term downward trend in GHG emission in the US.
This emissions decline is a result of market forces, not policies. Utilities are now preferring cheaper natural gas and renewable energy to coal plants when it comes to electricity production.
Of course, we will have to wait a little longer to see if Trump's proposed attempts to revitalise fossil fuel industries can offset these market forces.
But there still will be scope for hope, as seen in the Green Climate Fund (GCF) case.
Impact on Green Climate Fund
During Donald Trump's campaign against the climate deal, he also promised to end what he saw as wasteful contributions to the GCF.
GCF is the world's largest dedicated fund aimed at helping developing countries' climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts. Although the establishment of GCF predates Paris Agreement, it has a crucial role in serving the agreement by channelling climate finance to developing countries.
In 2014, developed countries pledged $9.3 billion for the first five years of GCF operations. The US originally pledged $3 billion but paid just $1 billion as Trump withheld the contribution.
In the first replenishment of GCF in November 2019, despite the US and Australia abstaining from pledging, other nations together have pledged US$9.78 billion, exceeding 2014 promises. Thirteen nations doubled their pledges compared to what they did five years ago, to compensate for Trump's termination of GCF contribution.
The world seems to be determined to move forward with or without the US' participation in the fight against climate change.
The door is open
Any future US administration, of course, can rejoin the Paris agreement with a mere 30-day waiting period. Democratic presidential candidates promised to do exactly so if elected.
Meanwhile, several US states formed the United States Climate Alliance to continue to uphold the objectives of the Paris Agreement within their borders despite the federal withdrawal. As of July 1, 2019, alliance states made up half of the US population and more than half of US GDP.
To summarise, in the words of Dr Ahsan Uddin Ahmed, a member of the independent Technical Advisory Panel (iTAP) of the Green Climate Fund (GCF):
"Neither US participation alone would have saved the world, nor will its withdrawal ruin the world's efforts to fight back climate change," Dr Ahmed said.