The US just sent a group of seven registered participants to a vital United Nations meeting regarding the Paris climate agreement. This delegation is even smaller than Zimbabwe’s, evincing the ambivalence of the Trump administration towards the groundbreaking agreement.
It is predicted that White House officials will huddle Tuesday to discuss the fate of the agreement. The difficulty here stems from the business leaders and the international community encouraging the US to remain in the agreement, while Trump’s conservative allies are pressing for an exit.
The meeting, which took place in Bonn, Germany, is the first of two gatherings this week in which international partners aim to persuade the progressively recalcitrant US to sustain its position in the agreement, which is between over 190 nations.
Other industrialized countries, including China, France and Germany, each sent dozens of officials—only the French delegation sent 42 official participants. Last year, in a choice very different from this year’s, the US sent 44 official participants.
This past Thursday in Fairbanks, Alaska, the US is set to host a ministerial of the eight-nation Arctic Council. This is an event that will inevitably to accentuate the quick changes to the fastest warming section of the Earth.
Over the past few days, White House officials have seemingly shifted their focus away from staying in the Paris climate agreement, with multiple administration officials claiming that the pact fixes the Trump administration to the grand greenhouse gas reduction goal promised by the Obama administration or one that is potentially even stronger.
This interpretation has been disputed by legal experts, however, in addition to participants in past global climate negotiations.
“Having been intensely involved in such negotiations for a long time, there can be no doubt that Paris is utterly non-binding, and therefore, each country is free to adjust their pledges in accordance with their own national circumstances,” said James Connaughton, who was a major leader of the White House Council on Environmental Quality under President George W. Bush.
Contemporaneously, a flurry of international and domestic lobbying has escalated as multiple foreign allies and corporations are advocating that the US to stick with the deal, even as the nation’s political conservatives argue for the opposite to be done. Unfortunately, this tension is parallel to that between internationalists and conservatives within the White House.
“We strongly hope that the US will stay committed to the Paris Accord,” Francois Delattre, the French ambassador to the United Nations, declared in a recent email to The Washington Post. “This is key in itself but also as an illustration of America’s commitment to world affairs.”
Delattre claimed that he “underscored this point” in a lunch with Trump at the White House, which occurred when the president met with members of the UN Security Council at the end of last month.
This has all set the stage for a possibly histrionic verdict, which is the type that Trump appears to take pleasure in making.
The Paris climate agreement, which was struck at UN talks in December of 2015, links the voluntary carbon-cutting pledges of over 190 nations. The parties that have consented to the agreement are expected to expand their ambitions over time, with the aim of eventually setting the world on a path to limit global warming to “well below” a 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) rise in temperatures observed in the late 1800s.
The Obama administration pledged to decrease U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by a considerable 26 to 28 percent below their 2005 levels by the year 2025. However, even this ambitious initiative, in conjunction with those of other nations, is not sufficient to keep the planet within the 2-degree temperature limit. This is why increased ambition over time is vital to the pact.
The divergence of opinion within the White House is between those, like Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who advocate for the US revision of its commitment downward, and those like Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, who believe merely remaining in the deal opens the Trump administration up to legal challenges to its national energy policies.
This past Monday, 40 conservative organizations sent Trump a letter “in enthusiastic support of your campaign commitments to withdraw fully from the Paris Climate Treaty and to stop all taxpayer funding of UN global warming programs.” These groups maintain that the US should ponder the possibility of removing itself from the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which is a treaty ratified by Senator in 1992 that is the basis for subsequent U.N. climate deliberations, including the Paris agreement.
At the same time, Google, Apple and more than 20 other businesses placed an ad in the New York Times on Monday expressing their support for the continual compliance of the US with the pact.
“By expanding markets for innovative clean technologies, the agreement generates jobs and economic growth,” the companies’ letter asserts. “U.S. companies are well positioned to lead in these markets. Withdrawing from the agreement will limit our access to them and could expose us to retaliatory measures.”
It is not yet clear how other countries would go about reacting if the United States were to remove itself from the deal, but “retaliatory measures” have explicitly been discussed in the past.
Nicolas Sarkozy, former president of France, has suggested “a carbon tax at Europe’s borders, a tax of 1 to 3 percent for all the products that come from the United States if the United States exempts itself from the environmental regulations that we ourselves have imposed on our businesses.”
The US, as the world’s second largest emitter, is vital to the Paris accord, both metaphorically and also mathematically. This is especially true as moves by the country to accomplish its goal of lowering its emissions as detailed and projected by the Obama administration could determine whether the world at large is positioned to curb global warming drastically in the upcoming years.
Based on an analysis by the think tank Climate Interactive, the Paris agreement pledges would change the path of the world from one where global emissions are predicted to increase significantly out to the year 2030 (as economies expand and populations flourish), onto one in which emissions remain fairly stagnant over the next 13 years. Although that’s not enough to reach the 2 degrees Celsius aim, it is enough to retain global warming under control to a certain extent.
Regardless, the group concluded that 21 percent of this achievement, which is roughly one-fifth of the emissions cuts, are contingent upon the collaboration of the US. Hence, if the US doesn’t reach its mark to the world under Barack Obama, global emissions will continue to increase until 2030 at the very least—assuming that other countries do not contribute by proposing more profound cuts than their current estimates, in order to make up for the failure of the US to contribute.
“The United States is contributing 21 percent of the pledged global reductions in greenhouse gas emissions,” explained Ellie Johnston, the climate and energy lead at Climate Interactive. “If the United States doesn’t follow through on its commitment, it will shift more of the burden of climate action to those countries who have polluted the least. It’s unfair by any measure.”
White House spokesman Sean Spicer has asserted that the Trump administration intends to decide whether to stay in the Paris agreement or not prior to the projected meeting of the Group of 7 in Italy at the end of the month.
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