In December 2015, 195 countries made history when they agreed to the Paris Agreement. World leaders from across the globe united to legally ratify action against pollution through the United Nations Framework Convention. Climate experts warn an increase of just 2 degrees Celsius could cause irreversible consequences. The dramatic heatwaves last month that caused deadly forest fires in Portugal and Spain were worsened by climate change.
The Agreement was a landmark accord that put the world on track to stop global surface temperatures from rising, providing a framework for gaining momentum on greenhouse gas reduction, with some oversight and accountability.
The United States entered the agreement in 2015, with a key focus on gas flaring operators to minimise methane emissions from landfills and oil and gas sites. As part of its pledge, the US needed to reduce emissions by 26 to 28 percent by the year 2025. Yet throughout his presidential campaign, Donald Trump promised to reverse the green energy policies that his predecessor Barack Obama had supported. By officially removing the US from the Agreement in May 2017, the US joined Syria and Nicaragua as the only nations not involved in the pact.
For richer, for poorer
There is an inequality when it comes to global emissions. Rich countries continue to get richer from burning fossil fuels. In 2014, the US made up 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions through emissions heavy processes such as gas flaring. The US has more gas flares than any other country.
In contrast, poorer countries may be among the first to bear the impact of climate change. Although not mandatory, as part of the Paris agreement richer countries – such as the US – were expected to send $100 billion a year in aid by 2020 to the poorer countries. While the United States has ceased all implementation of the non-binding aspect of the Paris accord, it must undergo a lengthy exit process, remaining in the agreement for another three-and-a-half year. It remains unclear if such payments will go ahead in the interim and if not, whether other oil and gas rich countries will leave the Agreement to avoid spending money on aid.
President Trump may have removed the US from the Paris Agreement, but governors from California, New York, Washington, Rhode Island and 10 other US states have pledged to continue Barack Obama’s work towards the goal of significantly reducing CO2 emissions by 2025. Together these states have formed the United States Climate Alliance.
Despite the US’ exit, the 194 existing members of the Paris Agreement remain committed. Many reaffirmed their dedication to cutting emissions at the recent G20 international forum. Governments are also continuing to join initiatives such as World Bank’s Zero Routine Flaring by 2030. Gas flaring is a major contributor of CO2 emissions – but the initiative encourages operators to only flare gas when necessary. The Paris agreement is a symbol for change and will continue even in the wake of President Trump’s withdrawal of the US. However, it is still to be seen if the accord will be weakened by the US exit and if the fragile coalition around climate change can be supported.