United States withdrawal from Paris Agreement may not be as bad as we think
United States President Donald Trump made it official on Thursday, June 1: he is pulling out the US from the global climate change agreement, which was signed in Paris in 2015 under his predecessor, Barack Obama. It was his campaign promise.
World leaders have called the US' withdrawal a tragedy, and vowed to defend the pact anyway. The former head of COP21 said the US' decision was "shameful," while the United Nations said the pullout of the US could add 0.3 degrees of warming.
Here are a few things to consider about Trump's decision:
1. It won't officially happen until 2020.
Article 28 of the Paris Agreement says:
"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."
It also says:
"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."
Since the ratification of the US entered into force on November 4, 2016, it is only allowed to withdraw from the agreement on November 4, 2019, and it will take effect only on November 4, 2020. By then, it is possible that the US will have a new president-elect.
Another option for Trump is to pull out the US from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Paris Agreement’s mother convention. The agreement says any country that withdraws from the UNFCCC is considered automatically withdrawn from the Paris Agreement. If the US does this, they will in effect be withdrawn from both treaties one year from notice of withdrawal, likely in June 2018.
With the UNFCCC being universal in its membership with 197 parties (196 countries plus the European Union), it will even be more controversial if the US does this and it may take the risk of facing more scrutiny from the international community. Also, since the US’ ratification of the UNFCCC was pursuant to a Senate approval, the US Senate could insist that it would also need their approval from any such withdrawal.
2. It may not be as bad as we think.
While the Paris Agreement has legally entered into force, the first implementation period will not be until 2020. This is why all the contributions by country parties only cover periods from 2020 to 2030/2050/2100.
So what exactly has been and will be happening until then? From 2016 to 2018, negotiations are ongoing under the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement (APA) to draft decisions that will implement the Paris Agreement. A closer look at the provisions of the Paris Agreement would show they are a little vague as to the “whats,” “hows,” and “whens.”
For example, what exactly are the numbers that parties have to include in their submissions? How will the compliance and implementation committee operate? When do parties have to provide the information asked for in Article 13? Decisions will have to be agreed upon, via consensus of all parties to the agreement, to clarify these things.
Right now, the APA allows all parties to the UNFCCC to participate in these negotiations. By 2018, however, only parties to the Paris Agreement will be able to join the negotiations.
Personally, I think the US' withdrawal will not have a significant effect on the rest of the world. While the US will still be able to participate in the climate negotiations, it is highly likely that they may lose all credibility and goodwill. While before, parties had to be careful about not antagonizing the US (because an agreement with the US is better than none – they do account for 15.6% of global greenhouse gas emissions), now their positions may not count for much.
International law, in practice, operates merely on peer pressure and quid pro quo. With Trump's international announcement that the US will stay on the bench, it would be unrealistic for other parties to allow it to call the shots.
The US has historically blocked important decisions on matters such as climate finance, adaptation, and loss and damage. Without the US at the negotiating table, developing countries might even gain some leverage. If and when the US decides to later on re-join the agreement, they will be bound by these decisions that cannot be renegotiated.
3. Even without the US as a party to the agreement, the rest of the world will continue to fight on.
As I said, the US does count for a whopping 15.6% of global greenhouse gas emissions, but there is still the other 84.4% that can be worked on. Even now, countries such as France, Germany, and even China have pledged that they will forge on and commit higher contributions even without the US as a party to the agreement.
And, anyway, climate action is not solely contingent on national governments. Climate action is done on the ground, by each and every individual. I am hopeful the citizens of the US will continue to conserve energy, invest on climate-smart technology, and, overall, be more aware and responsible for their lifestyle choices.
Already, the mayor of New York and the governor of California have said that even if Trump pulls out the US from the agreement, they will continue to work on battling climate change. Large US corporations – such as Apple, Google, and even major oil firms, such as Exxon and Chevron – have publicly supported the Paris Agreement, and have been urging Trump to change his mind. One thing is for sure: the masses will always have the power to trump the oligarchy (pun intended).
With that said, the US' impending withdrawal from the Paris Agreement is still a tragedy. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, established by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Programme, stated in its most recent report: “Human influence on the climate system is clear, and recent anthropological emissions of greenhouse gases are the highest in history.” It is widely acknowledged that about 97% of climate scientists and peer-reviewed studies agree that humans are largely responsible for changing the climate.
It is quite incredible that amid record-breaking droughts and intensified typhoons, powerful leaders still choose to ignore the cold and hard facts. We can only hope that the US will make up for this in the near future.
As for the Philippines, the only course of action is to take advantage of the situation. Now, more than ever, the Philippines must strengthen its panel of negotiators and its relationships with other developing countries to ensure that we get the best possible results from the climate negotiations.
The Philippines must continue to pursue its advocacy of ensuring climate justice and sustainable development. The country must make sure that developed countries comply with their historical responsibilities and provide adequate financial, technological, and capacity-building support to developing countries to achieve the ambitious goals of the Paris Agreement – yes, even without the US. – Rappler.com
Railla D. Puno is an environmental law and policy specialist by profession. She has been a member of the Philippine delegation to the climate negotiations since 2015.