The Paris Agreement, the USA, and You

The following represents the views and research of the guest author and does not necessarily represent the views of Climate Steps, which has been well established as a nonpartisan site – assisting users from all political viewpoints.

The Paris agreement [1], ratified in 2016 by 195 countries, including the U.S. at the time under the previous administration, aims to improve the global response to the climate change crisis. It focuses on greenhouse gas emission mitigation, with its long-term goal being to keep the increase in global temperature average to below 2.0 degree Celsius (36 degree Fahrenheit), and more if possible, to decrease the risk and impacts of climate change. Drafted under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), all signatories have to plan and report on their contributing actions to mitigate global warming, and the agreement insists that each country set an emission specific target by a certain date. The passing of such an agreement was historic, as discussions and deliberations for the same had been in the works for a hundred years; it took months of coalition building and nearly three consecutive nights of diplomatic deliberations to create an agreement that nearly every country signed. Critically, through the exchange of knowledge, network building, and stated goals, it made climate action a joint effort.

  1. Why does the Paris Agreement Matter?

The climate crisis has been worsening over the decades, and it has impacted the livelihoods of many people, especially those in tropical developing nations. Countries like Malawi and Mozambique have suffered the loss of nearly 700,000 acres of harvesting land due to heavy rains and flooding, [2] while nations like Bangladesh and the Maldives are facing a crises because of the rising sea levels exposing them to unprecedented climate disasters. The Paris Agreement was drafted to counter the failing points of prior agreements like the Kyoto Protocol from the late 1990s and the 2009 Copenhagen Summit [3] but it further built upon the promising goals of ensuring equitable development of resiliency against climate change for all nations for the near future. Thus, this agreement was a historic step towards establishing environmental equity – where developed countries are not only responsible for their own emission targets but also for the facilitation of infrastructural development of other developing nations, pushing for a more egalitarian global community.


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Aaditya Arora from Pexels.com
  1. World Progress Since Ratification

Below are few examples of progress, or lack thereof, that countries have made since 2016.

Morocco. The Moroccan National Energy Strategy pledged to generate nearly 52 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by the year 2030.[4] With heavy investments in projects focused on renewable energy production, like the Noor Ouarzazate complex, which is the largest solar farm and has a power capacity to generate electricity for two cities with an area comparable to Laredo, Texas. The complex finished its Phase 3 (Noor III) testing in December 2018, where it was indicated that the project can provide continuous-rated power even in the absence of sunlight. 

Ukraine. Despite publishing an effective 2050 Low Emission Development Strategy that can help reach its Paris targets, the Ukraine government is prioritizing its territorial disputes and using it to justify climate inaction.[5] As of 2016, the country’s emissions from fossil fuel combustion, industry, agriculture, and waste sources declined by 64 percent (below 1990 levels); [6] however, this was the result of the post-Soviet industrial recession and not from climate action.  As a result, the experts at Climate Action Tracker are predicting a substantial increase in emission rates in the coming years.[7]

India. This nation has set a goal of generating nearly 40 percent of its power through renewable sources by the year 2030, and, so far, it has made significant progress. With heavy investment in renewable energy, Climate Tracker has predicted the nation may reach its goals earlier than expected, seeing the compatibility of India’s plan with staying to a 2-degree Celsius (36 degree Fahrenheit) increase. It is also suggested that the increase can be brought down to 1.5 degrees Celsius (35 degree Fahrenheit) — if the country abandons plans to build new coal-powered plants. [8]

Norway. With ambitious targets and legislation in place, Norway has shown promising progress. As of 2019, their parliament has agreed to divest its Sovereign Wealth Fund of nearly 1 trillion dollar from fossil fuels and to divert these funds and other resources to renewable energy projects. [9] Norway also adopted legislation in 2018 to focus on reducing emission rates by 2050 (to 80-95 percent relative to 1990 levels). Norway has also seen an increase in the sales of new electric cars, an increase in forest cover, and the production of electricity from renewable sources (98 percent from hydropower and 2 percent from wind power).[10]


Photo courtesy of Dyana Wing So on Unsplash
  1. Where does the USA Stand? 

Current president Donald Trump started the process of complete withdrawal of the U.S from the Paris climate agreement in 2017 (the expected effective withdrawal date is November 4, 2020), for what he considered the unfair economic burden it imposed on American workers, businesses, and taxpayers.[11]  Recently, however, the COVID-19 pandemic has had some positive impacts on the US’s emissions; the projected drop in emissions will help the nation meet its 2020 targets and perhaps even the lower limit of its 2025 target if current policies are maintained post-pandemic.[12] Unfortunately, the pandemic has caused several economic setbacks for which (and for other reasons), the U.S. government has continued the relaxation of environmental regulations and their enforcement, leading to industries emitting more greenhouse gases while being exempted from any penalty. Luckily, several states have started to challenge the legality of these short-sighted decisions. [13], which is needed, as, with the end of COVID-19, there is a possibility of a resurgence in emissions.

With the upcoming elections, climate action policy has become one of the main agendas being addressed by the candidates as a top priority due to media and audience requests. The other candidate, former vice president Joe Biden, has said that he intends to return to the Paris agreement, as well as ban offshore drilling, deny any new permits for oil development on public land, remove the Arctic waters from consideration for oil and gas development, and, further, support a green stimulus for the pandemic. [14]

Key differences among the candidates on climate action policy include:

Fossil fuels- Former vice president Joe Biden is in support of withdrawing government backing of fossil fuels and ending fossil fuel subsidies, while President Trump favors unhindered growth of the fossil fuel industry.[15]

Keystone XL pipeline project- President Trump took action to move the permitting process forward and is in favor of the project, while Joe Biden has expressed his intention to stop it.

Coal production- President Trump has already reduced the power and authority of regulations that limited coal production, whereas Biden was famously quoted saying “nobody is going to build another coal-fired plant in America” during his first presidential debate.[16]

Green New Deal- Joe Biden has endorsed plans to invest $2 trillion in green jobs and eliminating all damaging emissions by 2050 by shifting the U.S economy towards renewable energy. President Trump has asserted his support for the oil energy industry many times over the last few months, and the $2 trillion recovery stimulus signed by him does not include direct support to clean energy development.[17]


Photo Courtesy of Markus Spiske on Unsplash
  1. How You Can Create an Impact

The outcome of the 2020 U.S. elections will drastically affect future climate policy and politics of U.S and the world, with the policies of the elected candidate becoming a historic part of the fight against the climate crisis.

It is during such times that we realize the power individuals hold towards determining the future of the world. The most immediate way to create an impact would be to vote this election for the candidate whose climate action policies you recognize and align yourself with; as we have seen over the last few months, each vote will count. However, your responsibility is not limited to elections only. Irrespective of who wins, the climate will not stop until and unless we take action collectively and individually.

Here are some other ways you can help create a change

  • MoveOn Petition. Sign the petition started by the organization MoveOn in order to persuade state governors to join the Paris Agreement.  https://sign.moveon.org/petitions/we-the-people-sign-onto
  • United States Climate Alliance. Write to your state governor to join the United States Climate Alliance, if it isn’t already a part of the alliance.
  • Climate tax. Insist your governor supports the implementation of a climate tax in your state to help hold industries and large-scale resource users accountable.
  • Follow with more personal actions to help create a change, as described on our website, such as:
    • Use energy wisely, switch to renewable sources.
    • Switch to public transport
    • Make your diet climate-friendly
    • Invest in renewables

Other Resources for Action

  1. https://climateactiontracker.org
  2. http://www.usclimatealliance.org
  3. https://climatenexus.org
  4. https://climatelobby.org

References and Further Reading

[1] https://unfccc.int/files/essential_background/convention/application/pdf/english_paris_agreement.pdf; https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-paris-agreement/what-is-the-paris-agreement

[2] https://www.humanitarianresponse.info/sites/www.humanitarianresponse.info/files/documents/files/community_and_organizational_perceptions_on_feedback_-_cyclone_idai_web_1_0.pdf

[3] Kyoto Protocol link – https://www.investopedia.com/terms/k/kyoto.asp#:~:text=The%20Kyoto%20Protocol%20is%20an,amount%20of%20their%20CO2%20emissions; Copenhagen Summit https://www.reuters.com/article/us-copenhagen-climate-accord-idUSTRE5BI0ID20091219

[4] https://www.iea.org/policies/6557-morocco-renewable-energy-target-2030

[5] https://www.climatechangenews.com/2015/09/30/ukraine-using-russia-conflict-as-excuse-for-climate-inaction/

[6] https://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2009/dec/09/eugene-robinson/robinson-claims-fall-ussr-meant-big-drop-greenhous/

[7] https://climateactiontracker.org/countries/ukraine/

[8] https://climateactiontracker.org/countries/india/

[9] https://www.theguardian.com/business/2019/jun/12/worlds-biggest-sovereign-wealth-fund-to-ditch-fossil-fuels

[10] https://www.regjeringen.no/en/aktuelt/norways-low-emissions-strategy/id2607245/

[11] https://www.state.gov/on-the-u-s-withdrawal-from-the-paris-agreement/

[12] https://climateactiontracker.org/countries/usa/

[13] https://thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/514160-21-states-sue-white-house-over-rollback-of-bedrock-environmental

[14] https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2020/10/trump-vs-biden-environment-heres-where-they-stand/

[15] https://www.greenpeace.org/usa/climate2020/

[16] https://www.politifact.com/factchecks/2020/oct/02/facebook-posts/bidens-nobodys-going-build-another-coal-plant-cont/

[17] https://www.utilitydive.com/news/nearly-2t-stimulus-package-omits-direct-renewable-sector-aid-after-trump/574887/

Further Reading

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2019/09/climate-change-report-card-co2-emissions

https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/trump-biden-issues-climate-change-environment/story?id=73151337

https://unfccc.int/resource/bigpicture/#content-the-paris-agreemen


Feature photo courtesy of Kristen Morith on Unsplash.com.

One thought on “The Paris Agreement, the USA, and You

  1. The rich will find their world to be more expensive, inconvenient, uncomfortable, and unpleasant, in general more unpredictable, perhaps greatly so poor will die.
    (Vulnerable future effect to the climate change)

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