Trumping the Paris Agreement

The Paris Climate agreement was a pretty big victory in our struggle to beat climate change. The UN established the framework in 2016, and it transformed the way we fight for our planet. 

The predecessor to the Paris Climate agreement was the Kyoto protocol, which was a legally binding set of environmental targets. Unfortunately, the sad result of making the protocol legally binding was that countries set targets that were not particularly ambitious. However, this is not to say that the Kyoto protocol didn't achieve anything, it was just not the right approach at the time. 

Kyoto offered very limited support for newly industrialising countries to assist them in reducing their emissions, and adapting to climate change. This became known as ‘climate justice’, and was a significant criticism of Kyoto, because the deal hit emerging industrial economies hardest. It does seem slightly hypocritical to prevent countries from using the same technologies we have been using for the last century to industrialise, because (conveniently) we can now afford to concentrate our efforts elsewhere...

Enter the Paris Agreement. The first of its kind. An astounding unanimous decision made by 195 governments for a better shared future. There is something beautifully optimistic about the Paris Agreement. However, this optimism is perhaps where all its criticism stems from.

It was definitely a necessary change in tone from its predecessor. The aim of the agreement is to work towards the long term goal of keeping the increase in global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels (it took me a couple of times to get my head around that). This is by no means an easy target to achieve, but it is an achievable target.

The Paris agreement put in place a flexible framework to allow countries to develop their own climate strategies. This means signatories have to take an honest look at their contribution to climate change, and work towards much more ambitious targets than they did in the Kyoto Protocol. It also offers significantly more support to those hit hardest by these changes. 

The Paris Agreement ‘requires all countries to put forward their best efforts through nationally determined contributions (NDCs), and to strengthen these efforts in the years ahead’. The idea behind this is a ‘name and shame’ approach to implementation, as all countries are required to inform the other participants of the progress they have made.

The only situation I can compare this to is the moment when exam results are published, and everyone on the group chat starts posting what they have been awarded… except the Paris Agreement has no mute button.

Having drawn that comparison, I should clarify that the agreement is non-binding so there are no consequences for those that don’t meet their targets, impending world doom aside. Progress checks are legally binding, so countries will still have to present the group chat with their sad D3 or ‘Mild Fails’, but there will be no repercussions, only shame. So understandably some do not believe this is enough.  

The US for example. I appreciate Trump likes to make ill-informed irrational decisions, but this one was a doozey. Trump announced in June 2017 that the US was going to pull out of the accord.

trump hot head.jpg

Not only does this question the reliability of the current US administration, it just does not make sense. In doing this, Donald Trump is not only rejecting global goals imposed on the him by the rest of the world, he is rejecting the goals set by the USA, for the USA.

In America he has received a lot of criticism from the administration that was part of the negotiations, and some mayors are trying to band together to implement the Paris Agreement anyway, such as the Mayor of Pittsburgh, Bill Peduto.

Mr Trump’s aim is to establish an entirely new deal that “is more fair to the U.S economy”. However, as the strongest economy in the world, most of which was built during the industrial revolution with horrific environmental consequences, his reasoning is simply not good enough. Thankfully, the EU has rejected Trump’s idea of reworking the deal around US industry demands.

The silver lining in the situation is that, following the US decision to leave, both Nicaragua and Syria are now due to sign the agreement, which leaves the US as the only non-signatory in the world. Perhaps more embarrassing than a ‘Mild Fail’ indeed.

I desperately hope that the world continues to be disappointed with the President’s irrational decisions, and his attempts to recreate US environmental policy. There is no doubt his decision will hinder globally set environmental targets, but the rest of us can go on without the US.

The most mind boggling part of Trump’s decision is that renewable energy is one the fastest growing industries in the world. It creates countless jobs, cleaner air, and consequently better public health. What could be better for the US economy?

Perhaps the lesson to be learned here is that there will always be people that believe they are bigger than the cause, but we cannot let them bully us into giving up on our goals. The Paris Agreement is literally just an agreement for a better world. So I remain unsurprised by Trump’s decision.