The United States left the Paris accord on Wednesday, becoming the first country to ever withdraw from an international climate change pact as the fate of its presidential election hangs in the balance.
It may prove to be a temporary blip before Democrat Joe Biden’s administration rejoins the agreement. Otherwise, the global effort to rein in the Earth’s warming will have to proceed without the government of the world’s second biggest carbon emitter.
Biden has proposed a $1.7 trillion-plan to take the US to net zero carbon emissions by 2050, while president Donald Trump has aggressively championed the fossil fuel industry, questioned the science of climate change and weakened other environmental protections.
If Trump wins, it will be left to states, cities and businesses to take the lead.
However, a report last month by the group America’s Pledge found that even without help from Washington, action from these groups would still make it possible for the US to cut emissions by 37 per cent by 2030.
‘The easy part, relatively speaking, is to send a notification to the UN that the United States intends to rejoin the Paris Agreement,’ Andrew Light, a climate advisor to former president Barack Obama, said.
The US will still be ‘outside the conversation’ when Britain and the UN host a climate summit on December 12, the fifth anniversary of Paris, but poised to re-engage.
According to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in order to have a chance of keeping end-of-century warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius, global emissions need to reach net zero around mid-century.
The target warming level was chosen to avoid triggering a series of catastrophic climate tipping points that could force humanity to inhabit only the planet’s far north and south latitudes.
Niklas Hohne, a climate scientist at Wageningen University in the Netherlands and a member of a simulation group called Climate Action Tracker, wrote on Twitter that ‘Biden’s climate plan alone could reduce temperature increase in the order of 0.1°C.
‘This election could be a make or break point for international climate policy. Every tenth of a degree counts,’ he said.
Environmentalists say Trump’s announcement that he would withdraw from the Paris agreement three years ago made it easier for countries such Australia, Saudi Arabia and Brazil to weaken their own ambitions.
Many of the ravaging impacts of climate change are already felt today: loss of sea ice, with the Arctic expected to be ice-free by mid-century; accelerated sea level rise, longer and more intense droughts and heat waves, stronger hurricanes and shifts in precipitation patterns.