Climate Action

US formally announces plan to leave the Paris Agreement

On Monday, the U.S. filed paperwork to begin the process of withdrawing from the United Nations’ Paris Agreement on Climate Change. Though U.S. President Donald Trump announced his administration’s intention to leave the Paris Agreement back in 2017, U.N. rules forced him to wait until Monday to start the yearlong process.

The decision to withdraw will make the U.S. the only U.N. member state to pull out of the accord — 195 countries agreed to the measures to limit global warming set in 2015.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo released a brief statement announcing the decision to leave from the U.N. agreement, citing “the unfair economic burden imposed on American workers, businesses, and taxpayers by U.S. pledges made under the Agreement.”

That rationalization, however, contradicts many studies that have argued the economic and societal advantages of a transition to renewable energies. In stepping back from the global climate agreement, the U.S. is ceding the enormous economic opportunities of the clean energy transition and the vast job-creating potential, warns Earth Day President Kathleen Rogers.

“The current U.S. administration is committed to protecting the fossil-fuel status quo and that commitment ignores the enormous economic and job-creating potential of a clean economy — from energy to manufacturing to transportation to food production,” said Rogers in a statement.

The Paris Agreement is the international agreement that aims to limit global warming to “well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels” this century. In 2016, the agreement went into effect, after 187 countries — including the U.S. — ratified it.

The agreement is seen as a necessary step in limiting global warming and preventing the worst effects of a climate catastrophe, as outlined in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2018 special report on global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius.

“[The Paris Agreement] offers the best chance for protecting the most vulnerable from extreme weather and rising sea levels while conserving vital nature-based systems like coral reefs,” wrote former U.N. Spokesperson for the Paris Agreement Nick Nuttall in September.

President Trump reiterated his administration’s decision to withdrawal from the U.N. agreement two weeks ago in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, speaking to representatives from the natural gas industry.

“What we won’t do is punish the American people while enriching foreign polluters,” Trump said at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center downtown. “I can say it right now and I’m proud to say it: It’s called America First, finally.”

This decision, however, runs counter to the statements and policies of many U.S. cities, including by Mayor of Pittsburgh himself, Bill Peduto, who has actively supported the Paris Agreement.

“In Pittsburgh, we’re very proud of the transition we’ve been able to make from the Smoky City to the Sustainable City,” said Peduto, in a video posted on Earth Day Network’s Twitter account. “We have a big challenge out there and it goes all around the world, and we can solve it at the local level, but it requires us to work together.”

In October, mayors of the world’s largest cities met in Copenhagen at the C40 World Mayors Summit to discuss ways that cities can curb greenhouse gas emissions to avoid a climate catastrophe, as well as lend support to the youth climate movement.

“Mayors around the world, working through C40 Cities, are committed to deliver on the Paris Agreement and taking action to peak their emissions as our cities already have and bring them down sharply by 2030,” wrote the mayors of New York, Paris, Los Angeles and Copenhagen in the leadup to the summit.

U.S. cities and local governments have consistently filled the climate leadership void left open ever since the U.S. federal government first announced its intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. Representing tens of millions of Americans, mayors across the U.S. have raised the ambition on climate action and are committed to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, according to Sebastian Rosemont, Green Cities coordinator at Earth Day Network.

“Cities are on the front lines of the climate crisis — its effects on people’s health are tragic and the damage to infrastructure is costly for cities,” said Rosemont. “Cities know that we have a decade to get carbon emissions under control and have the infrastructure in place to support a green, sustainable future for all.”

Monday’s announcement by the White House joins a litany of recent environmental rollbacks and backstepping, including the reintroduction of toxic pesticidesthe relaxing of regulations on methane emissions and the lifting of protections of endangered species. News outlets have also covered the recent removal of references of “climate change” and “global warming” from multiple U.S. government websites.

The withdrawal from the Paris Agreement is a yearlong process, allowing the U.S. to officially withdraw on November 4, 2020, a day after the U.S. presidential elections. Per the terms of the Paris Agreement, however, the U.S. can be signed back into the agreement immediately (hypothetically, this could happen as early as January 2021 if a new administration takes office).

This timeline is important for national elections, as well as an increasingly environmentally conscious voting bloc. As voting citizens, we have enormous power to drive change by selecting local and national leaders who represent the values, interests and demands of their constituents.

“More than 60 countries will hold major elections in 2020, and citizens around the world have made their demands clear: Climate action is the top priority for political candidates,” said Earth Day Network President Rogers. “With one year until the 2020 elections, Earth Day Network calls on voters to let leaders know the power of an informed, inspired and activated citizenry.”