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How can Trump pull the US out of the Paris Agreement and what will it mean for the climate?

This afternoon in the White House Rose Garden, President Donald Trump is due to announce whether the US will leave the Paris Agreement. Predictably enough, Trump revealed the time and place via a tweet. According to Jonathan Swan at Axios, Trump has already decided to leave the Paris Agreement.

Swan writes that,

President Trump has made his decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord, according to two sources with direct knowledge of the decision. Details on how the withdrawal will be executed are being worked out by a small team including EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. They’re deciding on whether to initiate a full, formal withdrawal — which could take 3 years — or exit the underlying United Nations climate change treaty, which would be faster but more extreme.

How can the US leave the Paris Agreement?

Assuming Swan and his two sources are correct, and that Trump doesn’t change his mind in the next few hours, there are two ways that the US leave the Paris Agreement:

  1. Leave the Paris Agreement: Article 28 of the Paris Agreement states that countries cannot leave for three years after the Agreement entered into force. The Paris Agreement entered into force on 4 November 2016. And leaving the Paris Agreement requires a one year notice period. So the earliest that the US could leave the Paris Agreement would be November 2020.

    Article 28
    1. At any time after three years from the date on which this Agreement has entered into force for a Party, that Party may withdraw from this Agreement by giving written notification to the Depositary.
    2. Any such withdrawal shall take effect upon expiry of one year from the date of receipt by the Depositary of the notification of withdrawal, or on such later date as may be specified in the notification of withdrawal.

  2. Leave the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change: The third paragraph of Article 28 of the Paris Agreement give Trump a quicker way of leaving the Paris Agreement. He could pull the US out of the UNFCCC, which automatically pulls the US out of the Paris Agreement, and would only take one year:

    3. Any Party that withdraws from the Convention shall be considered as also having withdrawn from this Agreement.

There is a third option, which would avoid a diplomatic incident, and be consistent with Trump’s idiotic position on climate change. Trump could of staying in the Paris Agreement but ignore the emissions reduction targets that the US has set itself. If Axios is correct, Trump has decided to ditch this option.

What will it mean for the climate?

“Trump’s reported exit from Paris climate deal signals end of the American Century”, laments Joe Romm on Think Progress. Romm is determined to see the US as a “global leader”. He quotes Henry Luce’s 1941 article in Life magazine, in which he coined the phrase “the American Century”. Luce was arguing for the US to enter World War II, and to assume a role of global dominance. Instead of the “American Century”, David Harvey points out in his 2005 book “The New Imperialism”, a more accurate phrase would have been the American Empire.

What did US climate leadership look like? Here are just a few examples:

  • 1997: Al Gore sabotaged the UN climate negotiations in Kyoto.
  • 28 March 2001: US President George W. Bush backed out of signing the Kyoto Protocol.
  • 1997 to today: Under this US “leadership” on climate, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has gone relentlessly upwards:

Romm is under the illusion that the Paris Agreement is “a plan that will leave most of the world’s fossil fuels unburned”. The reality, of course, is that the Paris Agreement makes no mention of fossil fuels. And as Romm pointed out in December 2015, the commitments that countries have made to reduce their emissions would result in 3.5°C warming by 2100.

So what difference will it make if the US pulls out? In November 2015, Climate Interactive produced a video explaining what the implications of countries national plans on climate change would be under the Paris Agreement. The graph below overlays business as usual in the US (solid blue line) with the US pledged reductions in its Nationally Determined Contribution (dotted blue line). (All other lines are based on country’s pledges in their NDCs.)

By the year 2100, the difference between business as usual emissions in the US and Paris Agreement emissions reductions would be very large.

The next US elections will take place on 3 November 2020. While most of the US emissions reductions are planned take place after 2020, there is a significant difference between business as usual emissions in 2020 and Paris Agreement emissions. And the higher US emissions are in 2020, the more difficult it will be to reduce them – assuming of course that the next president of the US believes in science.

By leaving, the US will join the ranks of Syria and Nicaragua.[*] The US leaving the Paris Agreement could encourage other countries to leave. It could also encourage the EU and China to ratchet up their climate pledges. Without getting too Rumsfeldian, there are known unknowns, and unknown unknowns.

While the Paris Agreement will not come anywhere close to addressing climate change, the US leaving the Agreement will not improve matters.

CORRECTION – 1 June 2017: Uzbekistan signed the Paris Agreement in April 2017. Thanks to everyone who pointed this out.

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  1. The only thing I will do is book a front row seat at his poxy putting green ‘mar e lego’ and his world famous beach putting green in Aberdeen, known locally as ‘trumps dump; and cheer as the tide sweeps across the windmill at green 3.

  2. On the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit website, Richard Black argues that there are five ways that Trump could leave the Paris Agreement:

    1. Exit the Paris Agreement by the formal route, which would take four years
    2. Exit the underlying UN climate convention, which would take one year
    3. Use the approach modelled by South Park’s Eric Cartman, namely – ‘screw you guys, I’m going home’ – ie, a unilateral pullout with no regard to procedure
    4. Demand renegotiation of the Paris Agreement
    5. Argue that the Agreement needs to be ratified by the Senate, and send it there.

    Black describes option two as a “Mother of all Bombs”, three as “the truly nuclear one” and one as a “squib”. He reckons Trump will go for either option four or five – or a mixture of the two.

  3. On The Hill website, former deputy director of Greenpeace, Ken Ward, puts forward an argument in favour on Trump leaving the Paris Agreement:

    At what point do we give up wishful, incremental thinking — that reason will prevail, the free market will adjust, the president’s daughter and son-in-law will dissuade him from the worst climaticide, the Democratic Party will do something, or prior policies which tinker on the margins like the Clean Power Plan won’t be totally obliterated?

    I’d argue we’ve reached that point. If Trump withdraws from the Paris Agreement, at least we will have clarity instead of false hope.

    Who wanted to keep the U.S. in the Paris agreement anyway? People around the world, a majority of Americans, environmentalists and other coastal elites — constituencies for which Trump has shown indifference and/or contempt. Staying in was also favored by Exxon Mobil, Chevron, BP, Peabody coal, eBay, HP, General Mills, Kellogg, Tesla and other multinationals the Trump administration would have preferred to keep happy. But let’s face it, they won’t be all that mad the U.S. is pulling out, and the political impact won’t be all that great.

    Neither will the environmental impact. In fact, since the agreement lacks teeth, breaking it won’t have any effect on the climate in the short term. But in the longer term, the shock and rethinking it will cause in some circles just might precipitate political and cultural changes we need to stave off climate cataclysm.