In 2015, 196 parties agreed to adopt a collective goal to ensure climate change was limited. At COP21 in Paris, countries around the world came together to enter into a legally binding treaty on climate change which hoped to keep global warming below 2°C (preferably 1.5°C) above pre-industrial levels, and ultimately reach a carbon neutral world by 2050.
In 2017, President Donald Trump announced that the USA would be leaving the Paris agreement, despite widespread disapproval, with the decision sparking criticism from the majority of Americans. Opposition was heard not only from the USA but also abroad from environmentalists, scientists, business leaders and foreign governments.
In the televised announcement on June 1st 2017, Trump said “the Paris accord is very unfair at the highest level to the United States” as well as claiming that the agreement would cost the United States $3 trillion in lost GDP and 6.5 million jobs.
Part of the Paris agreement provides a framework for financial and technical support for countries that need it, specifically developing countries, so governments can work together to achieve their goal in limiting the impacts of climate change. Large scale investment is necessary to reduce emissions by a significant amount and developed countries have the lead in providing such assistance to more financially vulnerable countries. This is a similar concept to the Green Climate Fund which aims to “support projects, programmes, policies and other activities in developing [countries] using thematic funding windows” (UNFCCC). This is something which Trump had openly criticized, calling it a scheme to redistribute wealth from rich to poor countries.
The Paris agreement is not the perfect solution to climate change, with most current pledges only able to keep the rise below 2.7°C, but already global governments seem to pay more attention to low-carbon solutions and carbon neutrality targets. 25% of emissions are represented by zero-carbon solutions and new business opportunities in the transport and power sectors to meet these demands are being created. This is why Trump’s decision to leave was widely criticized and Joe Biden’s decision to rejoin has been welcomed.
Rejoining the agreement means that the US will need to improve upon the commitment previously made in Paris in 2015 to cut their carbon emissions. President Biden’s signing of the letter on his first day in office symbolised the powerful, political significance in his intention for his four years in administration. It shows not only his willingness to commit to limiting the impact of climate change, but also his intention of retuning the spirit of multilateralism to the Whitehouse.
President Biden has also announced his 10-year goal to cut emissions by 50-52% by 2030, creating jobs and boosting the economy to get the US on track to a zero emissions country by 2050. However he has not yet released any firm details on how this plan will affect American daily life, which has sparked inevitable criticism from Republicans who claim that it would only cause higher taxes and become unsustainable in the long run. Some scientists have tried to predict what changes may need to occur, e.g., a reduction in meat consumption, increasing the number of electric cars or installing new electric heat pumps in houses.
It is fairly universally accepted that the world needs to do more to keep global warming below a 1.5°C increase to prevent devastating, irreversible effects. Current promises do not seem to be doing enough to get us here, but the Paris Agreement and Biden’s new commitment for the USΑ are an uplifting step in the right direction.