When the Paris Climate Agreement was established in 2015, it was celebrated as a historic pledge among nearly 200 countries to reduce emissions and curb the effects of climate change before the damage became irreversible or more devastating. World leaders agreed to work towards keeping global temperatures from rising by no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by implementing their own emissions-reducing policies, reports Jim Daley for Scientific American.
President Donald Trump originally campaigned on the promise that the U.S. would soon back out of the agreement. In June 2017, he announced that he was starting the withdrawal process, arguing that remaining in the agreement would slash American jobs and "punish the American people while enriching foreign polluters." But despite his announcement three years ago, formally withdrawing has been a long, drawn-out process, reports Lisa Friedman for the New York Times.
"The U.S. was a vital party to the Paris Agreement," Anne Kelly, a vice president at the sustainability nonprofit Ceres, tells Adele Peters for Fast Company. "Our leadership sets a really important example for others to follow as a major contributor of greenhouse gas emissions, and as a country that is so well equipped to put into place targets and goals and laws and regulations that would reduce emissions. For us to bail was just profoundly irresponsible."
When former President Barack Obama was in office, he signed an executive order committing the U.S. to the agreement and set a goal to reduce emissions by nearly 30 percent of the levels detected in 2005 by 2025, reports Karl Mathiesen for Politico. But the Trump administration stunted that process, reports the Times, and the U.S. is only about halfway to the Obama administration's target. That's partly as a result of the administration's leniency on high carbon emitting industries and products, such as power plants, coal and cars, reports Rebecca Hersher for NPR.
"The lack of action at the federal level is a serious problem," Rachel Cleetus, a director at the Union of Concerned Scientists, tells NPR. "Climate change is clearly not just an environmental issue. It is threatening our economy. It's threatening our future prosperity, the well-being of future generations."
Emissions may not be rising right now, but they're not falling nearly fast enough to prevent catastrophic damage. The U.S. remains the second greatest emitter of greenhouse gases, right behind China. While others—like the European Union, Japan, South Korea and China—pledge to reach carbon neutrality in the coming decades, the U.S. is reversing progress. Upon taking office, the Trump administration repealed the Clean Power Plan and weakened restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions, Scientific American reports.
"The last four years of the Trump administration has not only been a reversal of many of the Obama policies that would have put us on track with meeting our initial obligations, [it has also been] four years of lost opportunities to continue the progress of the Obama administration," Kate Larsen, a director at the independent research organization Rhodium Group, tells Scientific American.
Americans are anxiously awaiting the announcement of the winner of this year's presidential race, and how the U.S. approaches climate policy in the coming years will be determined by the winner. Democratic candidate Joe Biden has pledged that if he wins the election, the U.S. will rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement "on day one" of his term. If so, the U.S. could be back in the accords by mid-February, reports NPR.