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Biden and the US return to the Paris Climate Agreement

Many environmental scientists have expressed their happiness for the US return to the Paris Climate Agreement and have hoped the US will immediately act on this goal and with measured and intelligent planning will play its responsible role on the arena of climate change.
December 2020
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Mansoureh Sharifi Sadr

Many environmental scientists have expressed their happiness for the US return to the Paris Climate Agreement and have hoped the US will immediately act on this goal and with  measured and intelligent planning will play its responsible role on the arena of climate change. This is while China, with a future-looking plan, and Europe, on the other side, with its incessant efforts for leading the greenhouse-gas-emissions mitigation target and taking the lead in science and technology  and possibly monopolizing the technology market in this field are trying their best . This is expected  to be one of the greatest challenges posed to the Us in the future which is now already four years behind its rivals in this field. The US return to the Paris climate agreement does not require senate approval; therefore, by Biden submitting a letter to the UN expressing the US inclination for return, after 30 days, the US return to and joining the agreement will be formally recognized. The US return to the agreement and its subsequent execution of its commitments  to reducing greenhouse-gas-emissions can encourage and guide other countries as well as directly impact the climate change crisis.

During his presidential campaign, the US president elect, Joe Biden, declared ,if elected, he will immediately return to the Paris climate agreement. After the votes counted and his supremacy over Trump cleared with a definite chance of becoming president, he declared two prioritized plans titled “assessing and regulating relations with China”  and “ the US return to the Paris Climate Agreement”.

Donald Trump, current US president, took a huge stride to weaken multilateralist approaches by declaring the US withdrawal from the Paris agreement on June 1, 2017. Prior to this, he, also, with his “America first” mantra aimed at downgrading the US international commitments, exited from a number of international treaties and pacts, as a result choosing an international isolation path for his country by adopting a unilateral approaches. The US exit from UNESCO in October 2017, exit from the UN human rights council in June 2018, exit from the Paris climate agreement on June 1, 2017, scaling back the US participation in the NATO pact ( from 22% to 16%) are among such approaches. In his latest step, in a letter to the congress on July 7 of the current year, he declared that the US has formally made a request to the UN for exiting the World Health Organization.

This text is trying to answer some questions. Why did Trump withdraw from the Paris agreement, how will Biden return to it and what will the impacts of such a return be? and whether the US return to the Paris agreement will result in mitigation of global warming and improvement on climate conditions, or will this return be interpreted as a step for strengthening multilaterism inside the international order? What will the US public’s reaction- especially the owners of industries-  be to this step? specifically regarding the economic impacts of such a return. What is clear is that the US return to the Paris agreement, as the world’s biggest economy and second biggest emissor of greenhouse gases is an important issue; as its exit from the agreement was of importance and sparked much consternation.

The Paris Climate Agreement is an agreement within the United Nations Framework Convention(UNFCCC) on Climate Change, dealing with greenhouse-gas-emissions mitigation. It was discussed at the Paris climate change meeting in 2015 and finally unanimously adopted by the participating members on December 12 of that same year. At present, 195 states have signed on to the Paris agreement as well as 190 states officially adopting it. The US is the only state which withdrew from it. It is to be noted that the Paris climate agreement is an outstanding international instrument which though apparently, is not binding, based on it, other states voluntarily commit themselves to reducing a certain amount of green-gas-emissions. The outstanding feature of the Paris meeting, especially the adopted document at the conclusion of the meeting, compared to previous agreements on climate change is that the instrument comprehensively includes all world countries, from developed to developing, within their participating commitments to reducing Co2 emissions. Before the Paris agreement, the Kyoto Protocol was the first comprehensive document for climate change, within which, only the developed countries, which had a larger share in greenhouse-gas-emissions , were committed to reducing  emissions, and the developing states had to be encouraged  to this path by receiving financial and technological help in the form of the CDM plan; but, unfortunately, the Kyoto Protocol  failed to reach its goals owing to defaults by the main emissors of greenhouse gases.

The Paris agreement is the outcome of the 21st meeting of the UNFCCC aiming at preventing global warming  and focused on reducing greenhouse gases including Co2. Paragraph 1 of article 4 of the agreement demands that all countries move toward setting aside fossil fuels such as oil and gas as quickly as possible. America, with emitting 17% of the global greenhouse gases, ranks second after China with 30% among world countries. on June 1,2017 Trump declared his intention to withdraw from the Paris agreement. The exit took place under article 28 of the accord by official request by the US to the UN, on November 4 2019. On the other side, by virtue of article 29 of the accord, the request became formal one year after  the submitting date, i.e. on November 4, 2020. It has been noted in the explanation of the request that joining the agreement has brought on unfair loss and damage to the American jobs and tax-payers, while , despite continuing economic growth, the US has been active in reducing greenhouse gases . the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, has claimed US production  of greenhouse gases has fallen by 13% during the 2005-2017 years.

The Paris agreement mandates that with participation and cooperation of all states planet earth’s temperature rise must remain under 2 Celsius degrees compared to the pre-industrial period; but , to date, planet earth’s temperature has risen by 1.2 Celsius degrees  compared to the pre-industrial period and if the emissions trend continues like this the earth shall experience a 1.5 Celsius degrees warming . Therefore, based on the UN scientific panel report on climate change, the earth’s temperature rise  by 2 Celsius degrees  in the coming years can cause an international food crisis. Meanwhile, many scientists believe the 2 degree threshold set in the Paris agreement shall not suffice to prevent the crises. Each country that joins the accord, must present its voluntary plans for reducing emissions in the coming years ,and also, all countries are obliged to present a correct report on their plans progress  to the UN.

Process of US return to the Accord and its Impacts- Regarding the US return to the Paris accord it has to be noted that domestically , this return does not require senate’s approval ; because it is an executive agreement. Therefore, by Biden sending a letter to the UN expressing the US willingness to return, after 30 days, the return and rejoining will be formally recognized. During the Obama presidencies , the US committed to bring back  greenhouse gases emissions increase in 2025 to its amount in 2005 ; but during the Trump era it was not realized and many regulations formulated for realization of the abovementioned goal were halted.

Based on the Biden plan for clean energies and return to the Paris agreement, the US is required to invest $2 billion for clean energies and fulfilling  its commitments over the course of the next ten years. With this investment, the US is estimated  to reduce its greenhouse-gas-emissions by 75 billion tons in the next 30 years, resulting in the earth’s temperature falling by 0.1 Celsius degree.  The US return to the agreement  and consequently  meeting its commitments  to reducing greenhouse-gas-emissions will also encourage and direct other countries as well as  directly impact on the climate change crisis, and basically China’s policies as the world’s biggest emissor of greenhouse gases.

By deciding to return to the Paris agreement , the Biden’s administration is expected to consider new plans for realizing the intended goals of the accord and various states are expected to determine their method of participation for realizing the goals of reducing greenhouse-gas-emissions. However, some giant corporations such as the Apple , Google, Goldman Sachs and Royal Dutch Shell have already signed  a declaration strengthening the US presence in the Paris agreement and their competing power in the world market which will allow the US to become a global leader in the development of technologies for reducing carbon emissions. Although structural changes in the US industries from  fossil fuels to clean energies, based on which it was expected that the carbon resulted from power generation be reduced to zero and also carbon be reduced in all fields to zero by year 2050,  require over $2 trillion budget , but alongside this reality, the US credible and giant corporation’s determination  for leading the competitive clean energies technologies market and obtaining hefty profits and probably monopolizing the market in this field are not issues to be ignored; because these issues in the economic system based on capitalism will potentially be a determining factor in pushing the US,  and basically the west, participation toward the Paris agreement.

Overall, it has to be noted the US president elect, Joe Biden, who in his presidential campaign and after winning the majority of the electoral college votes has announced he will return to the Paris agreement in his first day in office, has targeted a zero percent greenhouse gas emissions goal for 2050. It is obvious that planning for a 30 year target requires short, medium and long term plans such as assigning budgets. But it should not be forgotten that even setting a target for 2030 ,meaning planning and assigning budget for the next ten years, will not be easy and unchallenging for Biden. Although the Paris agreement is voluntary and nonbonding and from the US internal regulations’ standpoint, is an executive agreement, and the exit from and entering into do not require a senate vote, most probably, Biden will face the GOP challenge in the senate for planning and budgeting. The solution proposed by Paul Bledose, the strategic advisor of the Progressive Policies Institute and Bill Clinton’s Climate Advisor at the white house, for Biden is employing and using the executive regulations for reducing greenhouse-gas-emissions in order not to face senate and congressional obstacles. Meanwhile it has to be noticed that ,while, many environmental scientists have expressed their happiness for the US return to the Paris Climate Agreement and have hoped the US will immediately act on this goal and with  measured and intelligent planning will play its responsible role on the arena of climate change. On one side of the world, China, with a future-looking plan, and Europe, on the other side, with its incessant efforts for leading the greenhouse-gas-emissions mitigation target and taking the lead in science and technology  and possibly monopolizing the technology market in this field are trying their best . This is expected  to be one of the greatest challenges posed to the US in the future which is now already four years behind its rivals in this field.   

 

   (The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the IPIS)

           

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