Will We Always Have Paris? by Samantha Jakuboski, May 24 2019, 0 Comments


Will we always have Paris?

As in the Paris Agreement.

Remind me what that is again...

From November 30th through December 12th, 2015, every country, including the United States (US), met in Paris for the annual conference of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. This was the 21st Conference of Parties, known as COP 21. Initiated in 1995, the participating countries address efforts the global community can take to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and combat climate change. On the last day of COP 21, the conference adopted the Paris Agreement, a landmark agreement with the goal of preventing global temperature from rising 2° Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Rather than establish binding mandates, the convention agreed that each country would have its own nationally defined contribution—a country-specific goal to reduce carbon emissions. The US, for example, pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 26-28% below its 2005 levels by 2025.

On April 22, 2016, the US signed the Paris Agreement, and a few months later, on September 3rd, the US, along with China, formally joined the Paris Agreement—a great show of international cooperation, as these two countries are responsible for 40% of total greenhouse gas emissions. On November 4th, 2016, the Paris Agreement went into effect with 175 country signatories. To date, all 195 countries have signed the agreement, and 179 have formally joined.  These 179 countries represent 89% of global emissions. Russia, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey are among those that have signed but not yet joined.

Oh yes, now I remember. But didn't Trump withdraw from the Paris Agreement?

Well, not officially. On June 1, 2017, Donald Trump formally announced his intention to withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement, claiming it “is very unfair, at the highest level, to the United States.” His decision to withdraw is not unanimously shared among Americans; surveys have found that 40-60% of Americans oppose the US withdrawal from the agreement.

Donald Trump said these reasons contributed to his decision:

  • Costs related to the participation of the US, which he claims will result in $3 trillion in lost Gross Domestic Product (GDP)
  • Higher standards expected from developed nations, like the US, who he asserted have demanding pledges and will therefore bear the costs of climate change prevention projects in low-income nations

At the time, Trump mentioned that he would be willing to renegotiate the deal or discuss a new deal, but so far, this has not materialized.

Despite Trump's intention to withdraw, the US cannot formally withdraw from the Paris Agreement until November 4, 2020, according to the terms of the agreement. However, even if Trump formally withdraws from the treaty, the US public and many companies are already working, and will continue to work, towards achieving the country’s pledge under the Paris Agreement.

How so?

Well, on June 5, 2017, just four days after Trump's "intention" announcement, Americans decided to take the issue of the Paris Agreement on climate change into their own hands. Government officials and business leaders drafted and signed the We are Still In declaration, which pledges their support for the agreement and continued efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the US.

The coalition has since grown to include over 3,500 businesses, states, cities, counties, tribes, cultural institutions, faith organizations, health care organizations, universities and investors. This group represents more than 154 million people. EcoPlum joined the coalition during its first week, and we are still in!

What’s next?

Recently, on March 27, 2019, House Democrats put forward the H.R. 9: Climate Action Now Act. This act proposes to keep the US in the Paris Agreement, and will require Trump to submit an action plan within 120 days of the act passing on how he plans to lead the country on a road to achieve the nationally defined contribution of the US.

Votes are expected to take place later this year, but with a divided Congress, it is unlikely that this bill will pass. Despite the low chances of the bill being passed, it is, nonetheless, a political statement that climate change is not a forgotten issue among our elected officials. Americans are fighting to reduce the nation’s carbon footprint and honor the pledge made close to four years ago when the US signed onto this international treaty. 

The Climate Action Tracker (aka CAT; a group of research institutions comprised of Climate Analytics, NewClimate Institute, and Ecofys) found that countries are not on target to meet their nationally defined contributions under the Paris Agreement, and the US was labeled “critically insufficient”—the lowest ranked category! As I wrote in a previous blog post, "The Business of Climate Change," perhaps we could obtain better results by increasing sustainability training in business schools, so as to educate future corporate leaders on the importance of setting and accomplishing rigorous greenhouse gas emission reduction goals.  

Furthermore, CAT found that even if all countries were to achieve their pledges, the global temperature would increase 3.3° Celsius by 2100, way above the 2° Celsius ceiling set by the Paris Agreement. The international community knew this limitation going into the Paris Agreement and acknowledged the need for stronger pledges over time.  

Well, now is the time to ramp up, take action to combat climate change, and re-commit to meeting, or exceeding, our pledges. 

After all, We are Still In, and we can still act!

Do you support or oppose the withdrawal of the US from the Paris Agreement? Should the US play a leadership role when it comes to climate change? If the US withdraws from the treaty, will other countries feel less motivated in achieving their own pledges, and possibly withdraw as well? Have you noticed your city or state taking steps to reduce its carbon footprint? Have you taken steps to reduce yours? Please share your thoughts below!