Confirming the worst fears, President Donald Trump on Thursday stunned the world with the announcement that the United States would withdraw from the landmark 2015 Paris Agreement that seeks to safeguard the planet from the increasingly disastrous impacts of climate change.
“In order to fulfill my solemn duty to protect America and its citizens, the United States will withdraw from the Paris climate accord,” Trump, leader of the world’s second biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, said in one of the most nervously-anticipated announcements ever.
Trump said he will begin negotiations to “re-enter” the Paris accord or “an entirely new transaction”, on “terms that are fair to US, its businesses, its people, its taxpayers”.
“We are getting out, but we will start to negotiate and we will see if we can make a deal that is fair. If we can, that’s great. If we can’t, that’s fine,” he said.
Trump’s decision to withdraw means the United States will become just the third country to remain out of the Paris Agreement, the other two being Nicaragua and Syria, both of which, unlike the US, never joined.
Trump complained that while Paris Agreement posed “harsh economic restrictions” on the United States, it put no “meaningful obligations” on the “world’s leading polluters”.
“For example, under the agreement, China will be able to increase these emissions by a staggering number of years — 13. They can do whatever they want for 13 years. Not us. India makes its participation contingent on receiving billions and billions and billions of dollars in foreign aid from developed countries. There are many other examples. But the bottom line is that the Paris Accord is very unfair, at the highest level, to the United States,” he said.
“China will be allowed to build hundreds of additional coal plants. So, we can’t build the plants, but they can, according to this agreement. India will be allowed to double its coal production by 2020. Think of it: India can double their coal production. We are supposed to get rid of ours. Even Europe is allowed to continue construction of coal plants,” he said.
The US decision jeopardises the carefully built and delicately balanced agreement that was the result of decade-long intense negotiations. The Paris Agreement asks each of its 195 member countries — 194 after US pull out — to make self-determined ‘contributions’ in the global fight against climate change, with the overall objective of restricting the rise of earth’s temperatures to within two degree celsius as compared to pre-industrial times. The United States had promised to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 per cent from 2005 levels by the year 2025.
Trump had criticised the Paris Agreement, which the United States under the eight years of Barack Obama administration had played a key role in negotiating, during his campaign trail and had promised to pull the US out of it, if elected. He had also described climate change as a ‘hoax’.
He talked about a conspiracy even on Thursday and claimed that the agreement was about “massive redistribution of United States wealth” to other countries.
“This agreement is less about the climate and more about other countries gaining a financial advantage over the United States. The rest of the world applauded when we signed the Paris Agreement, they went wild. They were so happy for the simple reason that it put our country, the United States of America, which we all love, at a very, very big economic disadvantage. A cynic would say the obvious reason for economic competitors and their wish to see us remain in the agreement is so that we continue to suffer this self-inflicted major economic wound. We would find it very hard to compete with other countries from other parts of the world,” he said.
To be sure, the Paris Agreement will not fall apart as a result of US withdrawal but there is a possibility of some other countries following suit or losing interest in the agreement objectives. In the absence of the United States, the biggest historical emitter, the Paris Agreement is also in danger of meeting the fate of Kyoto Protocol that has remained a major under-achiever. Kyoto Protocol is the climate treaty that Paris Agreement seeks to replace. Negotiated in 1997, the Kyoto Protocol is supposed to die in 2020. The United States was not a member of the Kyoto Protocol as well.
Besides the fact that the emission reductions from the United States are crucial to achieving the global targets, Washington’s ability to mobilise financial and technological resources to fight climate change are absolutely vital for the success of the Paris Agreement.
The US withdrawal, however, will not 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 one year advance notice to withdraw. It means, the actual exit would not happen until well after Trump’s current Presidential term is over.