In December 2015, 195 countries came together in Paris, France to adopt the Paris Agreement, which aims to mitigate the effects of climate change by limiting global warming to 2°C. The agreement, a first of its kind, was long in the making. After increasingly alarming atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide and more than two decades of climate talks around the world, the Paris Agreement is the first-ever legally binding agreement to address climate change.
Today, only two countries are not part of the agreement. One is in its sixth year of a civil war and the other is one of the world’s richest — and most polluting — countries in the world: the United States. A third country, Nicaragua, was previously part of this club of dissidents, arguing that the agreement was too limited in scope and did not hold rich countries accountable for more than a century of pollution. Yet Nicaragua has since changed its tune and joined the climate agreement in September 2017.
In June 2017, current U.S. president and climate change skeptic Donald Trump announced that the U.S. would withdraw from the agreement it joined during the previous Obama administration, citing the “unfairness” of the deal to the United States.
“This agreement is less about the climate and more about other countries gaining a financial advantage over the United States,” claims Trump, a man known more for making real estate deals than he is for addressing some of humanity’s most pressing problems. “The Paris Accord would undermine our economy, hamstring our workers, weaken our sovereignty, impose unacceptable legal risks, and put us at a permanent disadvantage to the other countries of the world,” he argued. Trump’s critics, which include fellow billionaire and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg as well as California governor Jerry Brown, might disagree.
In the wake of this news, Bloomberg and Brown launched “America’s pledge on climate change”, a new initiative to “compile and quantify the actions of states, cities and businesses in the United States to drive down their greenhouse gas emissions consistent with the goals of the Paris Climate Change Agreement”. This new initiative shows how state and local politicians will fill the void in climate leadership left by the current U.S. administration.
According to Michael Bloomberg, “since the Trump administration announced its intent to withdraw from the Paris agreement, more than 2,500 US cities, states, businesses and universities have signed a letter reaffirming their commitment to the agreement’s goals”.
In June 2017, Jerry Brown demonstrated his commitment by signing an agreement with Chinese president Xi Jingping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Brown, who governs a state with the world’s sixth largest economy, also announced a renewed commitment towards clean energy investments all the while strengthening the state’s carbon emissions cap-and-trade program.
The EU is also collaborating with China to reduce emissions. Just a few days before Trump announced that the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris agreement, EU and Chinese officials met in Brussels to discuss China’s strengthening role in leading the fight against climate change.
Nevertheless, many leaders around the world are concerned about what implications the U.S.’s withdrawal from the agreement might have. In a press conference at the June 2017 G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed her disapproval of the U.S.’s decision to leave the agreement.
“Unfortunately, and I deplore this, the United States of America left the climate agreement,” she solemnly proclaimed during the conference. “What becomes clear in this declaration is the dissenting view of the United States, but I am gratified to note the other 19 members of G-20 say the Paris agreement is irreversible,” she stated.
While she did not shy away from expressing disapproval, other leaders have been less forthright in their criticism. Both India and China reaffirmed their commitments to the agreement without outright condemning the U.S. president’s decision. As two of the world’s most polluting countries, they both face increased pressure to reduce emissions and slow a process many scientists argue has already reached past its “tipping point”.
In just a few weeks, world leaders will once again reunite to discuss climate change at COP 23 in Bonn, Germany — this time without the U.S. as a key party in the conversation. While the U.S.’s role in future climate change discussions remains unclear, it is evident that the rest of the world will not let it derail progress towards fighting what might be the greatest threat of our time.