The Paris Agreement: What Does It Mean for Us?

October 22, 2016   By The SOE Team

The Paris Agreement: What Does It Mean for Us?

After days of speculation, President Donald Trump formally announced June 1 that the United States would back out of the Paris Agreement. Trump stressed in his announcement that the withdrawal is due to an unfair deal that would negatively impact the American economy. The president states that he is open to a negotiation with better terms for American businesses.

The White House Press Secretary expressed in a statement to the media that the president is in favor of protecting the environment and “remains committed to the trans-Atlantic alliance.” As the world’s second-largest polluter, the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris Agreement could drastically change the goals of the climate accord. However, what does the Paris Agreement, and the American withdrawal, mean for us? Here are a few key items to know.

What is the Paris Agreement?

The agreement, signed by 195 countries, is the first global treaty aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) says the accord “brings all nations into a common cause to undertake ambitious efforts to combat climate change.” The goal is to cap the global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels this century, and set the aggressive goal to limit the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The Paris Agreement developed a framework for countries to eliminate fossil fuels and replace them with renewable energy sources, as well as plans to provide financial and technological help to countries that would otherwise not be able to reach these environmental standards. Former President Barak Obama signed an executive order for the United States to adopt the agreement in 2015.

Why did we withdraw?

In the announcement to the press about the American withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Trump stated that the current terms of the accord could cost America 2.7 million jobs by 2025. The terms would also mean lost industrial jobs – with a coal production decrease of 86 percent by 2040. With renewable energy jobs on the rise, the U.S. withdrawal from the accord could affect the growing clean energy sector – specifically in states that voted for the president.

The president does not agree with the agreement’s plan to provide funds to under-developed countries. Instead, he attests that those funds would be better spent in the United States. In the same speech, Trump said he would like to renegotiate the terms of the accord that would accommodate American workers, or develop a new deal.

What did the other countries agree to do?

China, the largest polluter in the world, pledged to lower carbon dioxide emissions per gross domestic product (GDP) by 60-65 percent from 2005 levels. The European Union committed to a target of at least 40 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. These countries also committed to help under-developed nations financially. For under-developed countries, such as India, to reach their energy goals they will need financial support from these wealthier nations. The financial commitment pledged by the United States to these underprivileged countries was $3 billion. This contribution would have helped under-privileged countries adopt clean energy and adapt to the effects of climate change, such as drought and rising sea levels.

How long will it take to withdraw?

When Obama signed the Paris Agreement, it was done under an executive order, which means it was not ratified by the Senate. This is the reason there are now few hurdles for the current administration to pull out of the accord. However, the exit process to withdraw will take years to complete and officially end in 2020 – in time for the presidential election. The next administration, should it change, can then rejoin the Paris Agreement.

What are the possible effects?

Under the Paris Agreement, Obama pledged to decrease greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28 percent by 2025 from 2005 levels. Without the stringent environmental conservation practices necessary to meet those goals, the New York Times estimates the decrease in greenhouse gas emissions will land between 15 and 19 percent.

On a state level, governors of California, Washington, New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, Rhode Island and Connecticut have stayed committed to their pledges to meet targets of the Paris Agreement. CEOs of many companies have also decided to continue their commitments to the accord, including gas giants Chevron and Exxon Mobile.