United States formally exits Paris climate agreement

President Trump leaving the White House on 30 October. The exit from the Climate agreement happen to coincide with the elections. Photo: EPA/Chris Kleptonis / POOL

It’s official.  After a three-year delay, the United States has formally withdrawn from the Paris climate agreement, becoming the first nation to do so. 

But with the outcome of the US elections today on a knife-edge, this could change after President Trump’s Democratic rival Joe Biden promised to rejoin should he win.

President Trump announced that the United States would pull out of the accord in 2017.  He argued at the time that the pact undermined the US economy and put it at a disadvantage.

But the country was unable to leave until because of the terms of the agreement, which require a three-year delay from the date the treaty was ratified, and even then, a country has to serve a 12-month notice period.

The Paris Agreement was drafted in 2015 to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change.  It came into force on 4 November 2016 and aims to keep the global temperature rise this century well below two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5C.

The United States’ exit makes it the only country out of the 197 signatories to leave, however it remains party to its parent treaty, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

In 2015 under President Barack Obama, the country had pledged to reduce emissions by 26-28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2025, and to make best efforts to reduce by 28 per cent.

Under Trump emissions have seen a small decline in 2019 were at the lowest they have been since 1992, according to the US Energy Information Administration. However, it remains the world’s second-largest emitter accounting for around 15 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

The Trump administration has rolled back many of the country’s previous climate policies, with research from The New York Times citing that more than 70 environmental rules and regulations have been officially reversed.

The exit is a disappointment for many Americans and climate organisations. “The US withdrawal has huge implications for the rest of the world in terms of tackling the climate crisis,” May Boeve, executive director, of the climate action group 350.org, said.

“The US leaving the Paris climate agreement demonstrates what’s at stake in this election.  What we need now is all hands on deck for global climate leadership.”

Others cited by the BBC said the US pull-out is partly due to the failure of the Obama administration to have the Paris agreement ratified by the US Senate.

However, despite a long four-year departure, it may not be the end of the road. Trump has said the US could re-enter the agreement on terms that are fairer to the United States.

Biden has said he would seek to rejoin should he win. He has also pledged under his campaign to reach a 100 per cent clean energy economy and reaches net-zero emissions no later than 2050.