“We’re getting out.” Those are the words of former president Donald Trump upon his announcement in 2017 that the United States was withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement. On January 20, President Joe Biden reversed this decision and recommitted to the terms of the agreement.
Reentering the Paris Agreement sends a strong message to the world that the United States is ready to combat global warming and its social and economic repercussions. As one of the world's largest polluters, US cooperation is incredibly important in trying to address global warming.This move also shows other countries the United States is ready to participate in the international community again and will not continue the same policy of isolationism as set out by the Trump Administration.
The Paris Agreement was originally signed in 2016 by 174 countries, and other parties such as the European Union. The agreement was hailed as a historic achievement by politicians, journalists, and individuals for bringing many nations together to fight global warming and collectively keep the global temperature from warming by 2 degrees Celsius. The agreement calls for countries to use a variety of methods like switching to renewable energy to cut their greenhouse gas emissions.
With such widespread global support, world leaders received Trump’s decision to leave the agreement with great dissatisfaction. After his official announcement, leaders from France, Canada, Japan and the European Union condemned the withdrawal. EU Climate Commissioner Miguel Cañete encapsulated many of those statements when he said, “Today is a sad day for the global community, as a key partner turns its back on the fight against climate change. The EU deeply regrets the unilateral decision by the Trump administration to withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement.”
When the Biden administration announced it would be rejoining the Paris Agreement, many world leaders were elated. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted a statement saying, “Rejoining the Paris Agreement is hugely positive news.” Emmanuel Macron, the president of France, put out a statement saying that with Biden, “we will be stronger to face the challenges of our time. Stronger to build our future. Stronger to protect our planet.”
By reentering the agreement, the United States has committed itself to a goal of a 26-28 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions based on its 2005 levels, a goal Biden sees as one of his top priorities. Other countries have made similar pledges to reduce their carbon outputs. China has pledged to peak their emissions by 2030, and to lower their carbon intensity by 60 percent. India has set the target of lowering their emissions by 33-35 percent, and increasing clean energy usage to 40 percent by 2030.
Why the United States Left
When Trump pulled out of the agreement in 2017, he cited provisions that would allow China to build coal power plants, but would ban them within the United States, saying these were unfair to the United States. However, the agreement never mentions anything about coal or coal power plants. The agreement does not force any country to ban sources of energy production, though the agreement has led to a global divestment from coal power. Rather, it allows each country to set their own climate goals with the ultimate goal of curbing global emissions well below 2 degrees Celsius.
Trump also cited the impact on American businesses as another reason for leaving the agreement. In response to this claim, over 2,200 corporations and investors—who represent more than 70 percent of America’s GDP—signed a pledge to uphold the Paris agreement.
The Paris agreement does not lay out any formal penalties if the United States does not meet its goal of dropping emissions by 26-28 percent. However, leaving the agreement did damage the US reputation with its allies, something Biden hopes to change by rejoining.
In rejoining, the United States will likely adopt several new policies—some of which were previously in place but revoked by the Trump administration—to combat global warming. One of these will be the Clean Power Plan. This initiative would place a 32 percent cap on the amount of emissions fossil fuel companies can produce. It is estimated that this plan could save the United States $20 billion in costs associated with global warming, and provide an additional $34 billion in health-related benefits. Additionally, the Biden administration is looking into tightening fuel economy standards for vehicles to reduce automotive carbon emissions.
These efforts, despite their advantages, will face an uphill battle. Several Republicans, like Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves and North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, have pledged to oppose any regulation that would require the power sector to cut its emissions. These states have sued the federal government in the past over climate regulation, and will likely do so again if Biden enacts any new regulations.
In addition, Democrats may not have enough votes in the Senate to pass climate change regulation. Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia has expressed that he will oppose any regulation that will hurt coal production. This will make it even harder for Democrats to get anything passed through the Senate.
One option that Biden is considering to get around the Senate is a national emergency declaration, a policy that has been pushed by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. This could free up some federal funds to put towards green energy development, without congressional approval. However it is unlikely that Joe Biden will want to do this, because it would further establish a precedent of using national emergency powers to circumvent congressional budget authority.
The Consequences of Inaction
Although the United States will not face any direct costs from the Paris Agreement for failing to meet their targets, the consequences will manifest themselves in the form of lost GDP and environmental crises. If global temperatures rise above 4.5 degrees Celsius, then the US economy could lose $520 billion dollars annually from just the impact on twenty-two sectors of the economy.
Global warming will raise sea levels which will wipe out billions in property value from flooding and more intense storms. From 2005-2017, coastal flooding caused nearly $16 billion dollars of damage across seventeen states. To help prevent this, communities are spending billions to beef up sea protection. Miami alone is spending $4.6 billion dollars on sea walls to protect from flooding. Many communities will not be able to bear these astronomical costs for sea protection and will be vulnerable to rising seas and extreme weather.
Global warming will also severely impact access to agriculture and water by making droughts more frequent and by increasing insect populations that feed on crops. Some of the most important US farming communities, such as the corn belt and California’s central valley, could lose anywhere between 10 to 90 percent of their production capacity by the year 2080. This could wipe out farming communities nationwide and cause major disruptions to the food supply chain.
No matter how fast the United States curves its carbon emissions, the world will still suffer the consequences of global warming. However, with significant global action, the world can still avoid major climate disasters, such as crop loss and worst-case natural disaster and population displacement scenarios. This is a main reason why US participation is key to the climate accord’s success. Reducing global climate change requires action from every country, especially a major carbon emitter like the United States. Rejoining the Paris Agreement puts the world on a clearer path towards mitigating the effects of global warming.
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