The election of Donald Trump and fears of the United States under his administration pulling out of the Paris Agreement brought back memories of 15 years ago when a change of administration had prompted the US to refuse to ratify the climate change agreement of that time. Marrakesh, interestingly, was hosting the climate change conference in that year as well. Countries were in the process of ratifying the Kyoto Protocol of 1997 which the US had helped finalise. When the US went into elections in 2000, climate negotiators had begun framing the rules of the Kyoto Protocol, just like they are scheduled to do for the Paris Agreement at the ongoing meeting.
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By the time climate negotiators met at the next annual meeting in Marrakesh in 2001, the Bush administration had announced that it would not join the Kyoto Protocol because the US Senate did not agree to it. US, forever, remained outside the Kyoto Protocol that is scheduled to come to an end in 2020.
Kyoto Protocol assigned specific emission reduction targets to a group of rich and industrialised countries that were considered mainly responsible for causing global warming. Paris Agreement, the successor climate arrangement that was finalised in the French capital last year, on the other hand, calls for action from all countries though it lets every country decide for itself what actions it intends to take to fight climate change.
Unlike was the case with the Kyoto Protocol, the United States has already ratified the Paris Agreement and has thus become a member. Trump, however, had said the US would withdraw from the Paris Agreement if he was elected as President. Marrakesh, therefore, has been staring at the possibility of history repeating itself.
Climate observers, however, said pulling out of the Paris Agreement was not going to be that easy for the United States.
“Notwithstanding short term changes in US posture and policy, the global economy has already begun to shift its focus towards a low carbon future. Markets and economics are likely to moderate any future US policy shift as US companies and investors assess what will keep America’s economy competitive and in business in a global market. Add to that the rapidly growing number of US companies already employing millions of people in low carbon sectors and you can expect a strong domestic voice influencing future policy signals of the incoming administration in Washington,” Achim Steiner, Director of Oxford Martin School, and former Executive Director of UN Environment Programme, said.
Besides, the Paris Agreement prohibits a country from withdrawing in the first three years following its ratification. The United States ratified the agreement in September this year. After the three-year period, a country must give a one-year advance notice to withdraw. The US President has a four year term.
“The Paris Agreement was signed and ratified not by a President, but by the United States itself. As a matter of international law, and as a matter of human survival, the nations of the world can, must, and will hold the United States to its climate commitments,” Carroll Muffett, president of Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), said.