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What US climate pact withdrawal could mean for the world

Last week, the US announced its intention to pull out of the Paris Climate Accord, the 2015 landmark global commitment to tackling climate change.

President Trump said the agreement put unfair environmental restrictions on American businesses, and he had been elected to represent the citizens of “Pittsburgh, not Paris”.

The move has been met with widespread criticism from politicians, business leaders and environmentalists both inside the US and around the world. It represents a major setback in the first real collaborative effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions around the world and slow the progress of global warming.

On World Environment Day, we look at what this could mean for the planet and our environment.

Women burning rubbish in Kampala, Uganda Jenny Matthews

Burning rubbish in Kampala, Uganda

The Paris Climate Accord

Studies show that if the planet’s carbon emissions were to continue unchecked, temperatures will rise to devastating levels, causing rising sea levels, droughts and more extreme weather patterns and storms.

2016 broke the record for the hottest year ever recorded

VSO volunteer Monica Prisacariu (left) discusses solar energy with Zevar Davatfirova (right), a volunteer at the Youth Ecological Center in Dushanbe, Tajikistan.

The idea of the Paris Climate Agreement was to set goals for all countries, rich and poor, to curb their emissions of damaging gases, with an aim to keep temperatures well below 2°C above pre-industrial averages.

The accord was signed by 195 countries in 2015, nearly every country in the world.

As part of the plan, each country’s climate commitments will be reviewed every five years, with an aim to accelerate their efforts to cut emissions over time.

Richer countries will also assist poorer nations with “climate finance”, supporting them to adapt to climate change and begin to use renewable energy. 

Achievements so far

Early studies indicate that emissions of greenhouse gases have stabilised, though are not yet falling. Roughly the same amount of carbon dioxide pollution was release in 2015 as in 2014

Whilst this has happened before, stabilising levels of emissions have only come about as a result of global economic weakness, and we are now in a period of expansion. 

China has already begun to aggressively switch to renewable energy, and Britain achieved its first ever coal-free day earlier this year, with plans to close its last coal power station by 2025. 

What Trump’s move means for the world

Arafa Mwamba is a solar engineer in Chekeleni village, near Mtwara, Tanzania.

Arafa Mwamba is a solar engineer in Chekeleni village, near Mtwara, Tanzania.

The US is historically the world’s biggest polluter. Although it makes up just 4% of the global population, it’s responsible for a third of the excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere today.

But whilst emissions going unchecked in the US could be damaging to the environment in itself, the U-turn has implications far beyond this.

The US and China were hugely instrumental in encouraging other countries to commit to signing the deal, leading the way towards a greener planet. Many fear that Trump’s actions could cause other countries, especially poorer ones, to drop-out, reversing years of hard work. The country will join Nicaragua and Syria as the only nations who are not a part of the deal.

However, the US will not be able to officially pull out of the Paris Climate Accord until November 2020.

 

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