The Paris climate agreement was historic and monumental, for a number of reasons. 149 world leaders represented 149 of the world’s 151 countries at the Paris Summit, in order to come to a global consensus on tackling climate change. Intercontinental squabbles, economic disparity, and age old tensions were left on the sidelines. The deal demonstrated that the entire world can work together toward a unified goal. As the world’s first ever comprehensive climate agreement, the Paris deal was described as an incentive and driver for divestment from fossil fuels into renewable energy. The aim of the convention as described in Article 2 of the agreement reads as follows.
- “(a) Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change;
- (b) Increasing the ability to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change and foster climate resilience and low greenhouse gas emissions development, in a manner that does not threaten food production;
- (c) Making finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development.”
Not only did the Paris deal show that countries can work together, but it seemed to clear up the international narrative about climate change once and for all. Even with many vocal deniers of the phenomenon, the severity of it had become too extreme to ignore. This represented a seismic paradigm shift in the way countries discussed and dealt with climate change – it had become globally recognised, cemented and vindicated. That was of course, until a man who once said that climate change was a “Chinese hoax” was elected to the office of President of the United States. That same man just withdrew his country from the Paris Climate Agreement. Mr. Trump said that the agreement “disadvantages the United States for the exclusive benefit of other countries.” In a similar fashion to how he vilified and degraded NATO leaders in his comments at the NATO headquarters a few weeks ago, Trump used his speech announcing the withdrawal as a platform to attack other countries who signed the agreement such as China and India, for receiving a “better deal” than the United States. What the President seems to be missing is that nobody is “disadvantaged” by a climate agreement, and in fact the world itself is at an advantage thanks to it.
There are now only three countries on the face of the Earth who are not signed on to the agreement – Syria, The United States and Nicaragua. Mr. Trump has indicated that he wanted to “renegotiate” the deal. But representatives of France and Germany have said that the accord is “irreversible” and could not be negotiated. Barack Obama, who championed the agreement when it was first struck, has said “I’m confident that our states, cities, and businesses will step up and do even more to lead the way, and help protect for future generations the one planet we’ve got.” Meanwhile, one of Mr. Trump’s most prolific advisors Elon Musk threatened to step down from his advisory position if the U.S left the agreement, stating on Twitter that “climate change is real. Leaving Paris is not good for America or the world.” Recently elected French President Emmanuel Macron gave a speech indicating that countries had to come together to “make the world great again,” twisting Trump’s own campaign slogan.
As with the surprise Brexit vote last year, and even Donald Trump’s own election, the fear now is that other countries will follow suit. Populist, isolationist decisions such as Trump’s election and Brexit seemed to be indicative of a societal trend towards conservatism. The recent French elections were watched closely, as fear swelled that conservative nationalist Marine Le Pen could be elected to power, shifting the balance of the world away from globalism. After Brexit, the EU panicked, realising that if France or Germany were to pull out next, it could financially cripple the organisation beyond repair. As a result, it is understood that the EU will make an example of Britain in the exit negotiations, scaring other countries away from the idea of pulling out.
But with the Paris climate agreement, an example cannot be made of the US. The agreement was voluntary, and non-binding, a fact which Mr. Trump gleefully drew attention to during his remarks. The fear now is that the most influential country in the world has abandoned its duty to the world. What is to stop other countries from following suit? The Paris Climate agreement was a step towards global unity, and an attempt to save our one planet. Now, a single decision by a single President may reverse years of hard work and potentially doom the Earth. There is every chance that the US withdrawal will prompt other countries to double their efforts. There is also every chance that the US could face serious diplomatic and trade repercussions from other nations in the agreement. Countries may impose carbon tariffs on the US, potentially leading to a trade war. From here, anything is possible – and that is the scariest part.