Trump-Biden saga: The Paris Agreement, climate change and 1.5C

By Asitha Jayawardena

The former President Donald Trump decided to pull the US out of the Paris Agreement in June 2017 but it became effective on 4 November 2020.

After being inaugurated as the 46th President of the US on 20 January 2021, the newcomer Joe Biden re-joined the Paris deal and will host the Leaders Summit on Climate on 22 and 23 April 2021. 

Pulling out and re-joining The Paris Agreement

In his tenure, former President Trump announced the pull out of the Paris Agreement in June 2017. His idea was that it was unfair for countries such as China and India to use fossil fuels while the US had to limit its carbon emissions.

UN regulations meant that it could withdraw from the deal – the only country out of 195 countries that signed the Paris Agreement in 2015. However, it would take 3 years to do so, according to the UN. The day of leaving the Agreement fell on 4 November 2020, the day after the presidential election.

The key element of the Paris Agreement, which came into force in 2016, is that the global temperatures should be maintained ‘well below’ 2C above pre-industrial times and most probably 1.5C would be better. Under the deal, every country should set its targets of emission reductions, called nationally determined contributions (NDCs). Every five years, the NDCs would be under review to improve them further. The developed countries would help the developing counties to adapt to climate change, particularly switching to renewable energy.

Moreover, limiting the rise of global temperatures to 1.5C will benefit the small island nations from sinking beneath the waves. It will also help millions of people avoid the impact the extreme weather such as floods and hurricanes.

After nearly three months without membership in the Paris Agreement, Biden signed the executive order to re-join the Paris climate deal on 20 January 2021.

“We’re going to combat climate change in a way we have not before,” Biden said. “They are just executive actions. They are important but we’re going to need legislation for a lot of the things we’re going to do.”

Within a week since 20 January, called “Climate Week”, over a hundred environmental regulations rolled back by former President Trump was reinstalled by President Biden. One was the blocking the construction of The Keystone XL oil pipeline, which would have carried oil 1,200 miles from Alberta, in Canada, to Nebraska, in the US. Another is the zero carbon dioxide emissions from the electric power sector by 2035 and by the entire economy by 2050.

Views on The Paris Agreement – for and against

Re-joining the Paris Agreement sparked views by domestic people as well as international leaders.

“Rejoining Paris is just the first step,” said Todd Stern, who was the lead US negotiator in Paris, “but it’s a big first step.”

“Even if we can’t get new climate legislation, our executive branch already has many tools to act,” voiced Leah Stokes, an expert in environmental policy at the University of California. “The best time to cut emissions was decades ago; the second-best time is today.”

However, President Biden’s commitment to the agreement has voiced concern among the Republicans. “By rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement, President Biden indicates he’s more interested in the views of the citizens of Paris than in the jobs of the citizens of Pittsburgh”, Senator Ted Cruz mentioned on Twitter. “This agreement will do little to affect the climate and will harm the livelihoods of Americans.”

Surprisingly, the conservative-leaning Chamber of Commerce, celebrated Biden’s rejoining the agreement in a statement.

Marty Durbin, president of the Chamber’s Global Energy Institute, welcomed the rejoining the deal, saying “It is critical that the United States restore its leadership role in international efforts to address the climate challenge.” However, his opinion of the blocking of the Keystone project was that it “will harm consumers and put thousands of Americans in the building trades out of work.”

In the history of industrial times, the US has emitted the largest amount of carbon dioxide emissions but unfortunately, it was the only country to withdraw from the Paris deal out of nearly 200 nations.

Internationally, the president of France, Emmanuel Macron said on Twitter: “Welcome back to the Paris Agreement!”

“I warmly welcome President Biden’s steps to re-enter the Paris Agreement on climate change,” said António Guterres, the United Nations secretary-general. “But there is a very long way to go. The climate crisis continues to worsen and time is running out.”

The Paris deal is not all right if…

In the Paris Agreement, all 195 signatories should achieve to limit the global temperatures preferably within 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.

“He [Mr Biden] knows Paris [climate accord] alone is not enough,” John Kerry, his Climate Envoy and former Secretary of State said. “Not when almost 90% of all of the planet’s global emissions come from outside of US borders. We could go to zero tomorrow and the problem isn’t solved.”

The climate is back on The White House website and the Summit on Earth Day in April 2021 will be organised by the US.

So, John Kerry said that Glasgow will be extremely important. What he means is the COP26, 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow from 1 to 12 November 2021. Postponement for the second time due to coronavirus is on the cards but the existing date still is on.


Leaders Summit on Climate: Earth Day April 22-23, 2021



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