USA Exiting The Paris Agreement

  • In first week of November, 2019, the Trump administration gave formal notice to the United Nations regarding United States withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement.
  • According to a US State Department, the withdrawal will take effect one year from delivery of the notification.
  • The United States would then be the only UN member country in the world that is no longer part of the agreement.

Background

  • Despite Trump’s announcement in 2017 a formal move to withdraw from the 2015 pact had to wait till this year because of a provision in the Paris Agreement. The 2015 pact had lock in period of three years from the date of its entry into force—the Paris Agreement entered into force on November 4, 2016.
  • The notification begins the formal year long process for the US to withdraw from the agreement. This will mean that US will continue to be part of the discussions that is going to n held in December, 2019, in Madrid, Spain.

Reason for Exiting

  • During his 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump had said the Paris Agreement is unfair at the highest level to the USA interest.
  • The current government believes that the Paris Agreement undermines U.S. competitive edge and impairs both employment and traditional energy industries.
  • One key but quiet aspect of the Trump withdrawal that is raising more and more concern is the question of finance. Around $10bn is due to be paid in to the Green Climate Fund by the end of this year, with the US having already contributed $1bn under President Obama.
  • Due to shale gas evolution, the United States carbon emission has decreased in previous years, therefore it feels that there is not much requirement of further regulations.
  • Paris deal will be successful only when all the countries meet their intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) but as the agreement is not legally binding, the other countries will enjoy flexibility while US will have to face serious regulations.

Paris Agreement

  • The Paris Agreement is a landmark environmental accord that was adopted in 2015 at the 21st Conference of Parties(CoP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), to address climate change and its negative impacts.
  • The agreement went into force on 4th November, 2016.
  • As of November 2019, 195 UNFCCC members have signed the agreement, and 187 have become party to it

Aim

  • To strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change

Key Elements

  • To keep global temperatures well below 2.0C (3.6F) above pre-industrial times and endeavour to limit them even more, to 1.5C
  • To limit the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by human activity to the same levels that trees, soil and oceans can absorb naturally, beginning at some point between 2050 and 2100
  • To review each country's contribution to cutting emissions every five years so they scale up to the challenge
  • For rich countries to help poorer nations by providing "climate finance" to adapt to climate change and switch to renewable energy

Process for a Country to Exit Paris Agreement

  • According to the Article 28 of the agreement, a member can begin a formal withdrawal process no earlier than three years after the treaty enters into force.
  • Any such withdrawal shall take effect upon expiry of one year from the date of receipt by the Depositary of the notification of withdrawal, or on such later date as may be specified in the notification of withdrawal.

Possibility of USA returning to the Agreement

  • There is no bar on a country rejoining the Paris Agreement, giving an opportunity to USA to return to the agreement later.
  • Article 21 of the agreement states that a country that is not a party to the agreement can join it by submitting a formal notification, which will take effect 30 days later. This procedure is the same whether a country used to be a party and then withdrew, or is joining for the first time.

Impact of USA Withdrawal

  • The United States is the world’s second largest emitter of greenhouse gases. As part of its commitment to the Paris Agreement, the United States had promised to reduce its emissions by 26 per cent to 28 per cent by the year 2025 from 2005 levels.
  • The move could seriously jeo pardise the world’s objective of keeping the global temperature rise to within 2 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial times.
  • While exiting the Paris Agreement does not automatically mean the abandonment of this target or of any future action by the United States on climate change, it would no longer be committed to these actions.
  • The biggest impact might be on the financial flows to enable climate actions.The United States plays a preeminent role in mobilising financial resources globally, and its absence from the scene could seriously hamper that effort.
  • However, by withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, the U.S. gains itself more emission space and lower mitigation costs while squeezing other country’s emission space and raising their mitigation costs and this will in turn make it more difficult and expensive to achieve the 2°C target of the Paris Agreement.
  • The US withdrawal will mean that other countries would have to step up their efforts to curb greenhouse emissions. This could mean increased pressure on developing countries such as China and India, the largest and third largest emitters.

Way Forward

  • For the international community, the exit of the U.S. opens an opportunity to galvanised climate leadership from other member states. Historically, the USA, along with the EU, has so far played a major role in pushing the climate agenda forward from Rio to Paris.
  • Even if the United States does rejoin the Paris Agreement in the future, other countries will remember that it unilaterally left an agreement that had global support and may well believe that the country could do so again in the future. America’s reputation as a reliable international partner already has suffered damage that will take a long time to repair.
  • However, given the projected rapid increase in carbon emission from developing countries, climate leadership and action from these countries will be crucial in limiting global emission rate. Encouraging signs are seen from the two highest populated and greenhouse gas emitting countries — China and India,which are currently on track to overachieve their NDC pledges and further increase their targets.
  • In the last few years, China has managed to transform its image from grudging bargainer to silent torch bearer in climate action. It has the highest installed capacity in wind and solar power, introduced the world’s largest carbon trading scheme and made credible commitments to strive for ecological civilization. India, on the other hand, is on its way to overshoot its NDC target of 40% renewable energy capacity addition by 2022. It has initiated the International Solar Alliance (ISA) of more than 120 countries for harnessing solar energy and is projected to play a key role in global climate governance in the coming years.
  • US withdrawal makes it more important for the remaining countries to show strong political commitment to collectively implementing the treaty.

Source : Civil Services Chronicle Online, November, 2019