On November 4th, 2020 the United States officially withdrew from the 2017 Paris Agreement on climate change. The action, consistent with President Trump’s America First foreign policy, stands to disjoint any unified front in the global climate effort. But why is the Paris Agreement so important, and what does it mean now that the United States has withdrawn?  

The Paris Agreement, born from the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 21), addressed “crucial areas necessary to combat climate change,” within a wide variety of contexts, including global goals, and goals for individual nations divided between developed and developing countries.

The primary focus of the Paris Agreement is to prevent a rise in global temperatures. According to the Agreement, the goal is to limit the global temperature increase to “well below 2 degrees Celsius, while pursuing efforts to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees” to prevent irreversible damage to the environment, including non-human and human ecosystems.

In 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published their Special Report: Global Warming of 1.5 °C which detailed the potential risks and associated impacts associated with global temperature increases beyond 1.5 °C. In a study of 105,000 species, 18% of insects, 16% of plants and 8% of vertebrates for global warming of 2°C are projected to lose over half of their climatically determined geographic range. In addition, according to the report, “the level of ocean acidification due to increasing CO2 concentrations associated with global warming of 1.5°C is projected to amplify the adverse effects of warming,” further placing the afore mentioned species at risk, particularly for ocean biodiversity.

In the human sphere, the IPCC report predicts increases in food scarcity, poverty, and vector-borne disease transmission. Temperatures increases of 2°C are projected to result “in smaller net reductions in yields of maize, rice, wheat…and in the CO2-dependent nutritional quality of rice and wheat.” This places communities dependent on agricultural livelihoods at greater risk, with the IPCC projecting several hundred million lives in poverty by 2050. In addition, higher temperatures are likely to exacerbate risks from diseases such as malaria and dengue fever for those already at risk due to poverty and poor nutrition.

In order to prevent a 2°C rise in global temperature the Paris Agreement created a structure for each participating nation to maintain a nationally determined contribution (NDC) to reduce carbon emissions and instructs each country to pursue domestic measures to achieve them. The Paris Agreement classifies the United States as a developed country which should have a more aggressive climate change reduction effort at a national economic level, while developing countries like China are allowed, under the agreement, to continue growing their economy with rising emissions for a short period.

According to President Trump, the Paris Agreement would “cost America as much as 2.7 million lost jobs by 2025…including 440,000 fewer manufacturing jobs…$3 trillion in lost GDP and 6.5 million industrial jobs by 2040,” according to a study by NERA Economic Consulting. A short time after Trump’s statement, NERA issued a counterstatement purporting that “there have been numerous public mischaracterizations of NERA’s study” and “use of results from this analysis as estimates of the impact of the Paris Agreement alone mischaracterizes the purpose of NERA’s analysis.”

With the United States formally withdrawn from the Paris Agreement, the existing funds dedicated to the supplementary Green Climate Fund cannot be used. Additionally, as the United States withdraws from the agreement, other nations are forced to reevaluate the economic competition. For example, the President of the German Automotive Industry Association Matthias Wissmann, stated that “Europe would need to reassess its environmental standards to remain competitive after the United States said it would withdraw from the Paris climate pact.” Others companies, such as IBM, GE, and Amazon, issued statements which reaffirmed their commitment to the Paris Agreement regardless of the United States’ continued participation.

As it stands, the United States produces 15% of global greenhouse gas emission. While the United States government withdrawn from the Paris Agreement, individual companies can still take up its mandate, although without the added benefit of international oversight and regular transparency. Hopefully it will be enough to prevent hundreds of millions of lives falling into poverty and irrecoverable damage to the environment.

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