US commitments on COP 21 after Donald Trump election
By this season last year, 195 nations met at the Conference of Parties in Paris (COP 21), in order to discuss about climate change, negotiate an agreement, and set goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. After two longs weeks of discussion, nations agreed to limit global warming to no more than 2°C. Nevertheless, during these negotiations countries such as the United States or India were reluctant to these measures, because they wanted more flexibility or demanded their right to development. In the end, all countries agreed to limit global warming to no more than 2°C, with an aspirational limit of 1.5°C, in order to avoid the worst effects of climate change.
As said before, the Paris agreement was meant to find a common ground in subjects such as limiting earth temperature, increasing climate change responsibility and investments in solutions to climate-related issues. The responsibility acknowledgment of all – developing and developed – countries was then the main success of this conference. The success of this agreement was definitive last November, when 105 member states had ratified this agreement, including the USA, China and India.
Nevertheless, all this high hopes and expectations may have been put in jeopardy on november 9th, when candidate Donald Trump won the US elections. This successful businessman, well known for his enormous wealth and his involvement in TV reality shows, not just won the elections without winning the popular vote, but also against all forecasts, and certainly against all environmental interests.
The so called “ new american hero” of capitalists and careless business men considers himself as “not such a great believer in man made climate change”. In previous interviews, he has also said that global warming is a conspiracy created by Chinese in order to lead American industry to a non-competitive state, in line with his habit to make claims without any back up proof, fact, or logic. Trump is the only head of State rejecting the scientific consensus that mankind is driving climate change, and as the new president of the most influential country in the world and the second biggest greenhouse gas emitter, he will just choose to avoid scientific evidences that suggest the need for climate regulations and policies.
In his electoral campaign, he vowed to massively support coal, petrol and shale gas industries by implementing his “America first Energy plan”. That last one involves investing 50 trillion dollars in untapped shale oil and natural gas reserves, as well as coal reserves. The core objective of this strategy is to make the USA energetically independent and to avoid any kind of foreign trade deficit. Trump plans to eliminate the US climate action plan and the clean power plan, under which strict standards to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and electricity generation by 32% by 2030 were established, and thus to go against all environmental protection policies.
But it is mindful to ask if Trump could just decide to ignore the Paris agreement, forget about US commitments, and send a collective shake through climate scientists and policymakers across the globe.
So even though the United States have already signed and ratified the Paris Agreement, they still could withdraw from it, as stated in the article 28 :
- At any time after three years from the date on which this Agreement has entered into force for a Party, that Party may withdraw from this Agreement by giving written notification to the Depositary.
- Any such withdrawal shall take effect upon expiry of one year from the date of receipt by the Depositary of the notification of withdrawal, or on such later date as may be specified in the notification of withdrawal.
- Any Party that withdraws from the Convention shall be considered as also having withdrawn from this Agreement
Legally speaking, Trump could withdraw from this agreement by two alternatives. First of them is by issuing an executive communication notice removing the US from the Paris agreement. However, as stated above, they will have to wait 3 years and could be bound by procedural commitments, and obligations defined at the COP 22 in Marrakech. Secondly, Trump could also take a pragmatic shortcut – the nuclear option- and exit the United Nations Framework convention on climate change. This could be done just in one year, and make them leave the Paris agreement, which was negotiated upon this convention. This last option would mean that the USA would not be obligated to participate in any kind of climate engagement financing.
One of the main success of the COP21 agreement was the settlement of a common framework of transparency and verification. But this framework, whose establishment was postpone to 2018, excludes any type of sanctions or prosecution. Therefore, there is no mechanism to force a country that deviates from its planned national contribution to correct its drift. And if a country such as the USA, the second most polluting country in the world, decides not to contribute to climate change limi efforts, how to expect that countries such as China or India will accept to cut their carbon footprints and become as a result less economically competitive. This is why international geopolitical pressures will be essential in the negotiations to come with the USA.
Nevertheless, some climate officials already said that there is no way back on the Paris agreement because of its ratification by 103 countries, which represent 70% of global gas emissions. We must also underline that a total of 189 climate actions came out of the agreement, and also that renewable clean energy and solving its technology-related issues were confirmed as essential elements of international efforts to reduce global warming . Even if Donald Trump believes that he can just withdraw from an international treaty and forget about honoring US commitments, he will surely realize that he will need cooperation from other countries to deal with other problems, such as international trade or terrorism.
But we can finally feel a little hope for the Paris Agreement despite Trump’s plans on energy policy. Countries such as China and India have indeed already ratified and claimed publicly their engagement towards climate change: “ Any decision taken by the new US government would not affect China’s transition to a greener economy “. There are also many powerful persons, such as the Queen of the United Kingdom, the Pope, and other celebrities, who support action on climate change. Moreover, many international companies, including Nike, Hewlett Packard, Hilton, Mars and GAP have addressed a letter to Trump, asking him to respect the Paris agreement on climate change. More recently, President Obama, as one of his last environmental actions, has permanently banned new oil and gas drilling in US federal waters in the Atlantic and Arctic oceans.