THE US LEAVES THE PARIS AGREEMENT - CRISIS OR OPPORTUNITY

 

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Charalee Graydon
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On June 1, 2017, President Trump announced that the United States (US) would be leaving the Paris agreement1, a global commitment by 195 countries to combat climate change (the Paris agreement). The President's comment during the announcement, "I represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris" illustrated a nationalistic approach to a global issue affecting humankind. The decision rejected scientific, corporate, religious and international calls to address the threat of climate change. The President adopted both a nationalistic and self-focused position isolating the US from other countries of the world. His campaign promise of "America First" may have the result of the US losing its place as an economic and global leader.

In this paper, climate change is treated as a world problem to which human activity has contributed although it is recognized that this position is not accepted by all people. The paper provides information about the background leading to the Paris agreement, objectives adopted to limit CO2 emissions and global warming and responses to President Trump's decision. It also reviews impacts of the decision and avenues for the future including possible conflicts over oil and natural gas resources.

One cannot predict what will happen during the resident's four-year mandate or the future of the Paris agreement. The President's decision may have two consequences, the first being that it has closed the door to the United States fulfilling climate change commitments made in 2015, the second being that it has opened the door for a change in world order, the change not based on the voice of one person or one empire but on the collective voices of world leaders and global citizens.

COP 21- Climate Change Awareness and Background Leading to the Paris Agreement:

The Paris agreement is the result of an international collective process guided by the United Nations (UN). The first world climate conference was held in 19795 in Geneva when specialists from different disciplines met to discuss matters regarding climate variability and the contribution of humans to modification of the climate. The meeting recognized how climate change will affect the lives of people throughout the world and the need for an international forum in which technical information on these issues could be shared and agreements on handling climate change could be fostered. This conference set the stage for international engagement to address climate change.

Additional meetings were held during the 1980s with a second world climate conference in 1990 involving the UN Environmental Protection Committee. While the parties did not set specific targets to limit CO2 emissions at the 1990 conference, they discussed principles that were subsequently adopted as part of the UN Climate Change Convention. One example is the decision that climate change is "a common concern of humankind". Other matters included recognition of the need for equity and that countries should have different responsibilities based on their levels of development and contribution to climate change. Also in 1990, the UN started treaty negotiations on climate change using the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee for a Framework Convention on Climate Change. Meetings were convened in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro when the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change was signed by 154 states, including the European Council.

Also of importance in 1990 was that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the body established to review the state of existing knowledge on environmental, economic and social aspects of climate change, issued its first report. Following a thorough review of worldwide scientific and technical material, its findings confirmed the scientific evidence of climate change. The IPCC published its second and third reports in 1995 and 2001, continuing to provide information on humankind's impact on climate change and setting up matters for funding and tools for adaptation to climate change.

The IPCC's 2014 report tied the scientific research together, the report indicating, in most scenarios without additional mitigation efforts…warming is more likely than not to exceed 4 degrees above pre-industrial levels by 2100. The risks associated with temperatures at or above 4 degrees include substantial species extinction, global and regional food insecurity, consequential constraints on common human activities, and limited potential for adaptation -
COP meetings continued to address climate change with notable meetings in Berlin in 1995, Geneva in 1996 and Kyoto, Japan in 1997. At the Kyoto conference, industrialized countries negotiated the Kyoto protocol which set targets for emission reduction and timetables for this reduction. It is interesting to note that the United States, one of the developed countries, did not sign the protocol.

COP meetings entered the 21st century with a continued need to address methods for nations to engage in reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. COP meetings sought international commitment, particularly from the US and emitters in the developing world such as China. COP conferences sought to obtain funding, developed technology transfer, reviewed methods for adaptation, and called for action programs. A considerable amount of work was done in a short period of time, laying the groundwork for the Paris COP21 conference in 2015.

The agreement reached at the COP21 conference is simple and clear. The decision made by UN parties was to address climate change by keeping global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius. In addition, the agreement recognized the need to deal with ongoing climate change impacts and strengthen methods to deal with these impacts.
The COP21 agreement brought world leaders from diverse backgrounds together to face a common global concern. The commitment made by the US in 2015 is illustrated by the comments of President Obama to the American people following the conference. In an address from the White House, President Obama stated:

In my first inaugural address, I committed this country to the tireless task of combating climate change and protecting this planet for future generations. Two weeks ago, in Paris, I said before the world that we needed a strong global agreement to accomplish this goal - an enduring agreement that reduces global carbon pollution and sets the world on a course to a low-carbon future. A few hours ago, we succeeded. We came together around the strong agreement the world needed. We met the moment. These statements charted what was planned as the role of the US on the road to fight climate change. Less than two years later that role changed dramatically.

US President Trump and the Paris agreement:

On November 8, 2016, it was announced that Donald Trump had won the US Presidential election. The President outlined his vision for the US in his inaugural address, a vision different from that of President Obama. Selected parts of the inaugural address of President Trump are set out below showing this vision:

From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this moment on, it's going to be America First. Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families.

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Climate Change, Conflict, USA

 

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