Current Affairs

‘America rejoins Paris Agreement’

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  • Published
    21st Jan, 2021
  • Context

    Joe Biden has pledged to combat the climate crisis on his first day as US president by immediately rejoining the Paris climate agreement.

  • Background

    • Hammered out over two weeks in Paris during the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s (UNFCCC) 21st Conference of Parties (COP 21) and adopted on December 12, 2015, the Paris Agreement marked a historic turning point for global climate action, as world leaders came to a consensus on an accord comprised of commitments by 195nations to combat climate change and adapt to its impacts.
    • President Obama was able to formally enter the United States into the agreement under international law through executive authority, since it imposed no new legal obligations on the country.
      • The United States has a number of tools already on the books, under laws already passed by Congress, to cut carbon pollution.
      • The country formally joinedthe agreement in September 2016 after submitting its proposal for participation.
    • The Paris Agreement could not take effectuntil at least 55 nations representing at least 55 percent of global emissions had formally joined.
    • This happened on October 5, 2016, and the agreement went into force 30 days later on November 4, 2016.
    • President Trump announced his move to exit the agreement in June 2017, but his decision took effect in November 2020.
  • Analysis

    What is the Paris Agreement?

    • The Paris Agreementis a landmark international accord that was adopted by nearly every nation in 2015 to address climate change and its negative impacts.
    • Aim:
    • Limit global temperature rise by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
      • To substantially reduce global greenhouse gas emissions in an effort to limit the global temperature increasein this century to 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, while pursuing means to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees.
    • Provide a framework for transparency, accountability, and the achievement of more ambitious targets.
    • Mobilize support for climate change mitigation and adaptation in developing nations.

    Important International Agreements on Climate Change

    • Montreal Protocol, 1987
    • UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), 1992
    • Kyoto Protocol, 2005
  • How many Countries are currently in the Agreement?

    • Since 2015, 197countries, nearly every nation on earth, with the last signatory being war-torn Syria, have endorsed the Paris Agreement.
    • Of those, 189 have solidified their support with formal approval—not counting the imminent re-entry of the United States under the Biden administration.
    • The other major emitting countries that have yet to formally join the agreement are Iran, Turkey, and Iraq.

    Why are countries aiming to keep global temperature rise below 1.5°C?

    • Heat waves: Many regions would suffer more hot days, with about 14 percent of people worldwide being exposed to periods of severe heat at least once every five years. 
    • Droughts and floods: Regions would be more susceptible to droughts and floods, making farming more difficult, lowering crop yields, and causing food shortages. 
    • Rising seas: Tens of millions of people live in coastal regions that would be submerged in the coming decades. Small island nations are particularly vulnerable.
    • Ocean changes: Up to 90 percent of coral reefs would be wiped out, and oceans would become more acidic. The world’s fisheries would become far less productive.
    • Arctic ice thaws: At least once a century, the Arctic would experience a summer with no sea ice, which has not happened in at least two thousand years. Forty percent of the Arctic’s permafrost would thaw by the end of the century. 
    • Species loss: More insects, plants, and vertebrates would be at risk of extinction. 
  • Why did US leave the agreement?

    • Having previously falsely claimed climate change is a hoax, leaving the agreement was one of the key promises that Trump made on the 2016 campaign trail.
    • In 2017, Trump argued:
      • Negative impact on economy: The agreement would negatively affect the U.S. economy and jobs market.
      • Not beneficial for climate change: It would not mitigate climate change
      • Unfair favours for others: It unfairly favored other countries such as China and India.
    • In 2019, Trump described it as "terrible, one-sided" and "a total disaster for our country."
      • In response, over 200 city mayors promised to continue working towards the aims of the agreement, by signing up to the American Climate Alliance.
  • The Paris Agreement and Biden

    • This new era of U.S. climate leadership represents the last, best chance to course-correct in the global race to tackle climate change.
    • In fact, the Biden campaign’s climate planis the most comprehensive ever undertaken by a major candidate for U.S. president—and Biden intends to rally international leaders to cut emissions even more aggressively than under the goals of the Paris Agreement.
    • And as Biden and Vice President–Kamala Harris fight to pull the nation out of the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic, they can do so in ways that support climate justice and a clean energy economy.

    China which has pledged to become carbon neutral by 2060 but has not yet put forward its national plan – will be watching closely to see what action Mr Biden drives forward in the coming months.

  • The Road ahead

    Rarely is there consensus among nearly all nations on a single topic. But with the Paris Agreement, leaders from around the world collectively agreed that climate change is driven by human behavior, that it’s a threat to the environment and all of humanity, and that global action is needed to stop it.

    Now, the next Conference of the Parties is scheduled for November 2021 in Glasgow. The aims of COP 26 will be to assess the progress made under the Paris Agreement and to encourage countries to enhance their original Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) into greater alignment with current climate science.

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