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Syria Joins the Paris Agreement—the U.S. Now Stands Alone in Opposition

The announcement comes on the heels of Nicaragua agreeing to the accords

Coal-burning power plant in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. (Cyrille Gibot / Alamy)
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On Tuesday, Syrian officials announced that the country was prepared to ratify the Paris Agreement, an accord in which the nations of the world commit to pursuing efforts to combat climate change. When Syria signs on, it will mean every nation in the world except the United States supports the agreement, reports Lisa Friedman at The New York Times.

As Jennifer Hansler at CNN reports, last month the Syria People's Assembly voted to approve signing onto the agreement. But officials announced the move yesterday during the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Bonn, Germany.

“I confirm that the Syrian Arab Republic supports the implementation of Paris climate change accord, in order to achieve the desired global goals and to reflect the principles of justice and shared responsibility, but in accordance with the capabilities of each of the signatories,” said Syria's Deputy Minister of Local Administration and Environment M. Wadah Katmawi, Hansler reports.

This latest announcement follows Nicaragua's recent acceptance of the accord. As Reuters reported at the time, Nicaragua initially rejected the agreement not because it found it too strict, but because it believed the terms did not go far enough in addressing climate issues. But the nation relented, with Vice President Rosario Murillo saying, “the Paris agreement, despite not being the ideal agreement, is the only instrument we have in the world that allows the unity of intentions and efforts to face up to climate change and natural disasters.”

Syria did not sign the 2015 agreement because strict European and American sanctions made it impossible to send negotiators to the climate summit, Friedman reports. However, a spokesperson for Syria at the UN said the latest move is part of an effort to engage with "all international issues including climate change," reports Friedman.

Though the United States accepted the Paris agreement framework in September 2016, last June President Trump announced his intentions to withdraw the U.S. from the deal, stating, “we're getting out. And we will start to renegotiate and we'll see if there's a better deal. If we can, great. If we can't, that's fine.”

As Hansler reports, on Monday, the U.S. representative to the Climate Conference reaffirmed that message, stating that the U.S. would withdraw unless negotiations are reopened. Getting out of the deal, however, is not that easy, and withdrawal cannot be completed until 2020. Soon after the announcement of withdrawal this past summer, the leaders of France, Germany and Italy released a statement rejecting the idea that the agreement could be unilaterally renegotiated. “We deem the momentum generated in Paris in December 2015 irreversible, and we firmly believe that the Paris agreement cannot be renegotiated, since it is a vital instrument for our planet, societies and economies,” the statement read.

Syria’s inclusion now means the U.S. is the only nation rejecting the agreement. “Syria’s participation puts an exclamation point on the fact that the U.S. actions are contrary to the political actions, and the sincerely held beliefs, of every other country on the face of the Earth,” Michael Oppenheimer, a professor of geosciences at Princeton University tells Robinson Meyer at The Atlantic.

The Paris Agreement, negotiated in December 2015, is an attempt to hold the rise in global temperature below 2 degrees Celsius. Each nation submits its own plan to reduce emissions, committing to reaching their “highest possible ambition.” It requires that nations update their plans and increase their efforts to reduce emissions every five years after 2020. While there is no international sanctions or enforcement of the plans, it does require standardized reporting of how each nation is doing in reaching their goals. The hope is that the stigma from falling behind or not reaching goals will incentivize nations to push for continued change.

The Paris Agreement, however, is just a first step. The national plans filed so far will not reduce emissions enough to prevent 2 degrees of warming. That’s why the UN continues to sponsor talks like the current conference in Bonn, to help come up with new governmental and technological solutions to the problem.

About Jason Daley

Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.

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