Unexpectedly severe weather conditions that affected the United Kingdom and other European countries in the past weeks point out at the global-scale threat of climate change. The Paris Agreement passed within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) in November 2015 is to prevent the devastating consequences of pollution on the global environment. As described by the UNFCC, the agreement seeks to ‘strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change’ by aiming to limit global temperature increases and by strengthening countries’ abilities to respond to environment-related concerns.
Many would say that it did not come as a surprise when Donald Trump, known for disregarding climate change as a ‘hoax’, decided to withdraw from the agreement in June 2017. Considering that the United States is the world’s largest economy, and, by consequence, the ‘biggest polluter’, Trump’s withdrawal from the Agreement does not only have great symbolic implications, but also majorly impacts overall attempts to tackle climate change.
Most central of these concerns is the economic impact of the withdrawal. Despite the fact that the decision to withdraw will only go into effect in 2020, the world is in great anticipation of the Paris Agreement to lose one of its major economic supporters. By backing out of the Agreement, the US also retracts the $2 billion commitment to the Green Climate Fund that aims to help developing countries improve their infrastructure and access to clean energy resources. Furthermore, budget cuts threaten the future of American climate-related research, a worrisome occurrence due to the fact that the US is a leading researcher in the field. Despite Trump’s claims that being part of the Paris Agreement would have negative economic consequences for the US, the renewable energy sector is proving itself to be an increasingly growing source of income, something that Trump fails to acknowledge upon deciding to withdraw.
The withdrawal is also symbolic of the increasingly dividing world. The political trajectory which Trump decided to take does not only imply his intention to cut ties with other partner countries, but also provokes a fear about worsening other countries’ attitudes towards the Agreement. So far, however, these worries have not been proven true. Leaders have expressed their indignation at Trump’s behaviour, but seem to have come to the conclusion to pursue the environmental goals without the US being part of the Agreement.
As a response to the withdrawal, the US states have come together to form the United States Climate Alliance in order to express solidarity with fellow countries in fighting climate change. China, in its turn, has stepped up as the major power in the Agreement. However, it remains questionable whether China will be able to fill the space left by the US. As a result, NGOs and other organisations may begin to play an increasingly important role. In general, the progress of the Paris Agreement without the US remains uncertain. Without the US’s pledge to help reduce emissions, it seems that the country will continue to emit an increasing amount of greenhouse gasses, making it difficult for the Agreement to reach its specified goals.
In late January 2018, Trump announced on Britain’s ITV channel that he may reconsider the withdrawal on the condition that the contents of the Agreement are renegotiated to benefit the US. Yet it remains questionable if this statement is to be taken seriously. For the time being, the focus should turn to the remaining countries involved in the Climate Agreement and their attempts to fulfil the proposed goals without the US.