It’s “Official” Now: The United States of America Is Withdrawing From the Historic Paris Accord on Climate Change With Notice to the UN

G&A's Sustainability Highlights (11.8.2019)
Nov 12, 2019 11:00 AM ET
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The big news of this week:  The USA is now “officially” withdrawing from the Paris Accord on Climate Change.  The one-year countdown to “USA out” is now underway.

In 2015 as the representatives of almost all of the nations of the world gathered in Paris, France for “COP 21” (or “the UN Climate Change Forum, the 21st yearly meeting of the Conference of Parties), an important agreement was reached:  the 196 nations would work together to attempt to limit global warming to below 2-degrees Celsius (3.5-degrees Fahrenheit) – or at least to not above 1.5C (2.7F).

The goals are temperatures above pre-Industrial Age levels; scientists say we have already warmed 1-degreeC (or 1.8F).  The Washington Post in reporting the administration’s now-official action on the Accord says that 1/10th of the globe is already at more than 2-degrees Celsius when you compare the last five years with pre-industrial levels.

That means all of the nations of the world have to work independently and collectively to limit carbon emissions to zero level between years 2030 and 2050. This would be done in part through “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions” (INDCs) enacted in each signatory country. Comparing the year 2030 (intended results) with year emissions levels of a quarter-century ago would mean cutting emissions by at least 40 percent – a Herculean effort for many nations, and especially for the big “emitters” of the industrial world – the USA, China, India and European states. 

The United States of America had representatives at the COP 21 meetings – including members of the corporate community; according to a letter to the White House from US Senators who attended, today, 900 businesses continue to support the Paris Agreement, including 20 of the Fortune 500s. 

President Barack Obama committed the USA to the Paris Agreement / or Accord by executive order and in November 2016 (with other almost 200 other nations) the climate agreement was confirmed by the state representatives in Paris.

In June 2017, six months into the succeeding administration, President Trump announced plans to withdraw from the Accord because “…it disadvantages the United States to the exclusive benefit of other countries.”  (More recently he described the agreement as a “total disaster” for the U.S.)

And so by various means and executive order, successor President Donald Trump “officially” began the withdrawal of the USA this week with notice to the United Nations. The ending of US participation in the global agreement will be in November 2020 – one day after Election Day next year.  Climate change issues including the status of the USA in the Paris Accord are today political issues in the context of elections at all levels of government including the presidency of the U.S.

Of course, numerous critics sounded alarm and anger at the president’s action (a campaign promise in 2016 and addressed by President Trump since taking office).  Susan Biniaz, lecturer at Yale University, for example, told The Washington Post: “While the world will not be surprised, it’s a sad reminder of where the world’s former leader on climate change now stands…the decision of two years ago [two withdraw] is now even more grotesque…”

Andrew Steer, leader of the World Resources Institute, said the move “…fails people in the United States who will lose out on clean energy jobs as other nations grab the competitive and technological advances that the low-carbon future offers.”

A successor in the White House could begin the process of rejoining the Paris Accord -- depending on the election outcome next November.  And the pledge to do so could be “immediate” while the formal rejoining is now a more complex process.  Stay tuned to this important conversation!

Our Top Stories this week bring you several important perspectives on this issue.

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