Paris Climate Treaty and America’s bullheadedness-know the details

What is Paris Climate Treaty?

The Paris Climate Treaty has been much in news lately, thanks to Donald Trump. But before we move on to him, let us understand this treaty.

Plainly speaking, the Paris Climate Treaty is an agreement among nations of the UN to control their greenhouse emissions. The operative word is “voluntary”. There will be no compulsion on any country to abide by this treaty which comes into force from 2020. Except for Nicaragua and Syria, every other country of the UN has signed this treaty.

In objective terms, 195 countries have pledged to control gaseous emissions to the level so that global temperatures do not rise more than 2 degrees.

The Paris Accord was signed in December 2015 and so far 148 countries have ratified this agreement.

Key elements of Paris Climate Treaty

Without being too technical, let me explain you the key points of the Paris Accord.

  1. A long term goal to keep the global temperatures 2 degrees above the pre-industrial levels. This goal has to be achieved by 2100.
    Paris Climate Treaty
    Eiffel Tower lights up on the eve of the Paris Climate Summit
  2. This accord also strives to limit the increase in global temperatures to 1.5 degrees as this would control climate change.
  3. It is recognized that developing countries will take longer to control their emissions so, the developed world will help the former in this regard.

If we don’t achieve this goal by 2100, there will be frequent floods and drought in the world. There will be frequent climate changes, too.

Per this agreement, by 2050, countries will cut their emissions by 40-50% and by the end of this century, the planet will be carbon footprint free.

During the negotiations that led to this accord, many countries submitted their emission control proposals and ultimately, they formed the final framework of the Paris Treaty.

Not legally binding

Please note that this agreement is not legally binding. Countries can continue with their individual development programs that may run contrary to the Paris Climate Treaty. This accord is obligatory in nature and encourages countries to honor their commitments. It is widely expected that all the countries will stick to this accord, come what may.

The American Position

While the rest of the world was lining up to sign the Paris Climate Treaty this June, the US chose to walk out of it. It is surprising because America had signed this accord in 2015 under Barack Obama. He had argued that the main responsibility of cleaning up the Earth lay with the Americans.

Paris Climate Treaty
Image Credit: CNN.com

Donald Trump, however, thinks otherwise. The Paris Accord will take away jobs from the Americans and will force them to pay huge amounts of money to countries that dirty the planet most. He has named China and India as the two most polluting countries in the world.

Is this Agreement bad for the US?

No, is the standard answer of most of the American economists. They say that while this pact is not “perfect”, it does signify a turning point in global climate control. The previous American President, Barack Obama had said that this agreement represented ” the best chance that we’ve got to save the only planet that we have.”

It must be noted that America is the second biggest producer of greenhouse gases.

Why is Trump anti to this treaty?

It has got to do more with domestic economics than anything else, actually. Had the US stayed on in this treaty, it would have forced its many steel plants, coal mines, and other factories to shut down. This would have led to unemployment on a large scale and dented Trumps’ chances of a re-election.

Interestingly, had the US stuck to this accord, then it would have had had to cut its CO2 emissions by 20-25 % of 2005 levels by 2025. This would be a difficult task because, in real terms, the total reductions would be just 40-45 % of its prescribed targets. Perhaps, Mr. Trump did not want to be embarrassed on this issue.

World’s reaction

Not surprisingly, the rest of the world erupted in anger to Trump’s decision to quit the Paris Climate Treaty. In an official function, French President Macron clenched the hand of Trump so tightly that the latter’s knuckles shone white. Canada termed Trump’s decision disappointing while Japan said the American decision was regrettable. The leaders of Italy and Germany said that the terms of the Paris Accord were non-negotiable. Anne Hidalgo, the Mayor of France said there will be disastrous consequences to the American decision to quit this accord.

The Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi told his audience in Paris that we have a solemn responsibility to our children for a cleaner and greener earth. Mr. Modi vowed that India will go further on climate control and the Paris Treaty is not the final instrument in this.

Indian Ambassador to the UN shakes hands with his UN counterparts after ratifying the treaty. Creds: www.un.org

America erupts in anger

Surprisingly, a large section of Americans has opposed Trump on Paris. The Mayors of New York and Chicago said that they will stick to this accord. Former Vice President, Al Gore said that Trump’s decision to abandon the Paris Climate Treaty would undermine America’s efforts to clean up the world. He also said that Trump’s actions are in conflict with what the Americans want on climate control. Senator Chuck Schumer from New York attacked Trump on the Paris decision and said that by leaving this accord, America had abandoned its leadership position to countries like China.

The real reasons?

White House watchers say that though the treaty is non-binding, yet left-leaning elements in the United States could have paralyzed the Administration. They quote the recent actions of the US judiciary on the immigration issue. Ben Shapiro of The Wire notes that Trump imagined the US courts could interfere with his efforts in controlling carbon emissions per EPA guidelines. EPA stands for Environmental Protection Agency and is the apex body for climate control in the US.

Trump also believes that it is really difficult to ascertain the emission levels of China. The Dragon has recently displaced the US as the number one emitter of greenhouse gases.

The North Korea connection

One important aspect of this Treaty is that all the members are required to raise their emission goals every five years. Going by this milestone, the Obama Administration had intended to reduce its carbon footprint by 80%. This level is the same as that of North Korea. Trump found this goal tough and impractical.

Impact of the Accord on Climate

Dr. Bjorn Lomborg of the Copenhagen Consensus Center estimates that the impact of the Paris Treaty on climate would be minimal. If all the countries stuck to their commitments, the global temperature would reduce by just 0.17 degrees only 2100. The US cuts would reduce the global temperature by just 0.031 degrees, he opines.

Paris Climate Treaty
Activists dressed up as Polar bears celebrate the Paris accord. Creds: Mashable

Another scientist, Dr. Roy Spencer says that it will be difficult to track global temperatures in 2100 going by the current monitoring tools that we have.

Paris Treaty and Economy

Lomborg estimates that the impact of the Paris Climate Treaty on then world economy would be terrible. The accord would cost $1.5 trillion a year after 2030; by 2013, the US would have lost $2.5 trillion of its GDP.

Given these facts and figures, it seems Trump has made a wise decision to quit the Paris Climate Treaty.

Paris and Human Migration

However, water-related problems, climate change, and environmental disasters will force millions of people to migrate from their homes and countries. According to a  US National Intelligence Council report, forced migration will cause severe distress to various economies around the world.This migration will impact the United States as well.

Here is what the Washington Post has to say on this issue.

For example, a few years back, there was a very heavy rainfall in Yemen. This was surprising because that country has always been facing droughts. Heavy rainfall in Yemen has caused the ongoing political hostilities in that country to increase. All this is expected to trigger migration from Yemen to more prosperous regions of the world like Europe and North America. Critics of Trump quote this study to press for America’s membership of the Paris Climate Treaty.

Posted by Swayam Tiwari

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