US formally exits Paris climate deal as election hangs in balance
- Exit comes exactly one year after Trump’s administration notified the UN of US quitting
- Joe Biden has vowed to immediately rejoin the Paris agreement if he wins the US election
The United States left the Paris accord on Wednesday, becoming the first country to ever withdraw from an international climate change pact as the fate of its presidential election hangs in the balance.
Either way, it all depends on the outcome of a knife-edge vote where both candidates have predicted victory.
Biden has proposed a US$1.7 trillion-plan to take the US to net zero carbon emissions by 2050, while President Donald Trump has aggressively championed the fossil fuel industry, questioned the science of climate change and weakened other environmental protections.
If Trump wins, it will be left to states, cities and businesses to take the lead.
Bundled up for summer, European glaciers covered with blankets to slow melting from climate change
However, a report last month by the group America’s Pledge found that even without help from Washington, action from these groups would still make it possible for the US to cut emissions by 37 per cent by 2030.
“The easy part, relatively speaking, is to send a notification to the UN that the United States intends to rejoin the Paris Agreement,” Andrew Light, a climate adviser to former president Barack Obama, said.
The US will still be “outside the conversation” when Britain and the UN host a climate summit on December 12, the fifth anniversary of Paris, but poised to re-engage.
According to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in order to have a chance of keeping end-of-century warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit), global emissions need to reach net zero around mid-century.
The target warming level was chosen to avoid triggering a series of catastrophic climate tipping points that could force humanity to inhabit only the planet’s far north and south latitudes.
Niklas Hohne, a climate scientist at Wageningen University in the Netherlands and a member of a simulation group called Climate Action Tracker, wrote on Twitter that “Biden’s climate plan alone could reduce temperature increase in the order of 0.1°C.
“This election could be a make or break point for international climate policy. Every tenth of a degree counts,” he said.
Environmentalists say Trump’s announcement that he would withdraw from the Paris agreement three years ago made it easier for countries such Australia, Saudi Arabia and Brazil to weaken their own ambitions.
Many of the ravaging impacts of climate change are already felt today: loss of sea ice, with the Arctic expected to be ice-free by mid-century; accelerated sea level rise, longer and more intense droughts and heatwaves, stronger hurricanes and shifts in precipitation patterns.
Small island nations face being completely submerged.
Even if the US rejoins, it will face a credibility gap – after all, it was also an architect of the Kyoto agreement that it never ratified.
Additional reporting by DPA