Another important date looms on the calendar this week in addition to a national election billed as the most pivotal in decades.
On Wednesday, the United States will become the only nation to officially withdraw from an international treaty aimed at slowing climate change.
The exit of the world’s largest economy — and the second biggest emitter of greenhouse gases after China — will occur three years to the day after President Trump began the legal process of withdrawing the nation from the 2015 Paris climate accord.
Whether the U.S. exit turns out to be brief or lasting depends on the outcome of the presidential contest.
A second Trump term would make clear that an international effort to slow the Earth’s warming will not include the U.S. government.
Democrat Joe Biden, meanwhile, has vowed to rejoin the Paris accord as soon as he is inaugurated, and to make the United States a global leader on climate action.
The United States will be the first country to quit the 189-nation agreement, which has countries make voluntary, ever-tighter goals to curb emissions of heat-trapping gases.
The only mandatory parts of the deal cover tracking and reporting of carbon pollution, according to U.S. officials who were part of the Paris talks.
If America pulls back from Paris and stronger carbon cutting efforts, some nations are less likely to cut back too, so the withdrawal’s impact will be magnified, said scientists and climate negotiators.
Because the world is believed to be close to climate tipping points and on a trajectory to pass a temperature limit goal, climate scientists said the U.S. pullout will have noticeable effects.
“Losing most of the world’s coral reefs is something that would be hard to avoid if the U.S. remains out of the Paris process,” said climate scientist Zeke Hausfather of the Breakthrough Institute in Oakland, Calif. “At the margins, we would see a world of more extreme heat waves.”
If the United States remains out of the climate pact, today’s children are “going to see big changes that you and I don’t see for ice, coral, and weather disasters,” said Stanford University’s Rob Jackson.
American carbon emissions dropped by less than one percent a year from 2016 to 2019, until plunging probably temporarily during the pandemic slowdown, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
More than 60 countries cut emissions by higher percentages than the United States during that time period, according to international data.
For some observers the differences could hardly be more stark, the stakes hardly higher.
“For us, it could be a matter of survival,” said Carlos Fuller, the lead negotiator for Alliance of Small Island States, a group of 44 islands and coastal states around the world that act together at climate talks.
Sea level rise is already threatening the ability of some island nations in the Pacific, such as Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands, to remain habitable, he said.
“The next 10 years for us are crucial,” he said. “It’s imperative that we take action now.”
In the Caribbean, ocean acidification and swelling seas are driving coral reefs toward extinction and imperiling fishing and tourism.
“Other countries around the world are obsessed with the Paris Climate Accord, which shackles economies and has done nothing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said in an email. “President Trump understands economic growth and environmental protection do not need to conflict.”
“We’ve also done our fair share” to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday in the Maldives, a climate-vulnerable country.
“We stand amongst industrialized nations as a beacon, and we did it not through state-driven, forced rule sets, but rather through creativity and innovation and good governance.”
Eleven years ago, the world was on pace to add about another 5 degrees of warming.
But with emission cut pledges from Paris and afterward, the world is facing only about another 2.2 degrees of warming if countries do what they promise, said Niklas Hohne, a climate scientist at Wageningen University in the Netherlands.
“If Biden wins, the whole world is going to start reorienting toward stepping up its action,” said climate scientist Jonathan Overpeck, dean of the University of Michigan’s environment program.
If the United States remains out of the Paris agreement, countries trying to cut emissions drastically at potentially high costs to local industry may put “border adjustment” fees on climate laggards like America to even the playing field, said Nigel Purvis, a climate negotiator in the Clinton and Bush administrations.
The European Union is already talking about such fees, he said.
Other nations will do more to limit carbon pollution if the United States is doing so and less if America isn’t, said Cornell University climate scientist Natalie Mahowald.
“In terms of leadership, it will make an immense difference,” she said.
In Paris, U.S. officials were crucial in getting the agreement finished.
The rest of the world ended up pledging to reduce roughly five tons of carbon pollution for every ton the U.S. promised to cut, climate experts said.
Nations also adopted a goal to limit future warming to just a few more tenths of a degree from now.
U.N. scientists in 2018 said there was only a slim chance of reaching the goal, but said it would likely make a huge difference in helping avert more loss of corals, extreme weather, and extinctions.
Source : The Blade