Pullout near, Paris climate pact faces US President Donald Trump’s wrecking ball

The US decision puts the Paris Agreement in danger of becoming another Kyoto Protocol

Written by Amitabh Sinha | New Delhi | Updated: June 1, 2017 12:08 pm
Donald Trump, Paris Climate Agreement US President Donald Trump. (File Photo)

While he himself preferred to keep the world guessing for a few more days, US President Donald Trump was reported to have decided to pull the United States out of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, a move that could have far-reaching consequences for the global plan to deal with mankind’s biggest environmental crisis.

“I will be announcing my decision on the Paris Accord over the next few days. MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!,” Trump tweeted minutes after several US media organisations, including The New York Times and The Washington Post quoted unnamed sources as saying that the President had decided to pull out. The news was first reported by axios.com news website that attributed it to two sources “with direct knowledge of the decision”.

Just four days ago, Trump had refused to become party to a G-7 declaration that reaffirmed the group’s commitment to the Paris agreement. Later in the day, he had tweeted that he would “make a final decision on the Paris agreement next week” (this week).

The decision itself, whenever it is taken, is unlikely to surprise. Trump, during his Presidential campaign, had described climate change as a “Chinese conspiracy” and a “hoax,” and had promised to pull US out of it. Ever since he won the election last year — the results came while the year-ending annual climate change conference in Marrakesh was on — a pull-out seemed like a distinct possibility.

As the world’s second biggest emitter of greenhouse gases after China, and the prime engine to mobilise financial and technological resources on a global scale, the United States is crucial to the success of the landmark climate agreement that seeks to keep the earth’s average temperatures from rising beyond 2 degrees Celsius from the pre-industrial levels, something that science says could trigger irreversible and catastrophic impact on the planet.

“The global climate architecture would no doubt suffer in the absence of the United States. What we needed is accelerated action to fight climate change. Instead, US pull-out, even in the best case scenario from here on, would mean a big slowdown on climate action. At the same time, however, not everything would come to a halt. India’s own actions, for example, are likely to continue almost unaffected,” Ajay Mathur, head of Delhi-based The Energy and Resources Institute said.

The US decision puts the Paris Agreement in danger of becoming another Kyoto Protocol that has remained a major under-achiever.

The 1997 Kyoto Protocol is the first global climate agreement and it is this agreement that Paris Agreement seeks to replace by the year 2020.

The United States, under George Bush administration, had refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol and never became a member. In fact, it actively undercut the Kyoto Protocol and was one of the prime movers behind the effort to negotiate a new global agreement that came into being in Paris in 2015.

Unlike the Kyoto Protocol, however, the United States has ratified the Paris Agreement, the ratification having been done in the last months of Barack Obama administration last year amidst distinct possibility of Trump emerging victorious in the ensuing Presidential elections.

As a result, a US pull-out from the Paris Agreement cannot be immediate. Under the provisions of the agreement, a member country cannot withdraw for the first three years after ratifying it. After that period is over, the country must give a one-year advance notice to withdraw. It means that even if Trump does decide to pull the US out, the actual withdrawal would not happen until well after his current Presidential term is over.

It is because of this reason that Trump is feared to exercise an even radical option, that of pulling out from the UNFCCC (UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) itself. The 1994 UNFCCC is the parent framework agreement on climate change that sets down the broad principles and goals for a global architecture to fight climate change. It is the UNFCCC that had called upon countries to negotiate an agreement to cut down their emissions. Both the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement were negotiated under the provisions of UNFCCC. All the members of Paris Agreement are members of UNFCCC as well.

Unlike the Paris Agreement, a withdrawal from the UNFCCC can happen within a year itself, as the three-year period after ratification is long over.

But this would be a more fundamental parting of ways for the United States because in that case it would not even be participating in any future climate change conferences that happen under the provisions of UNFCCC every year.

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