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The USA Rejoins The Paris Agreement

Updated: Jan 24, 2021

The United States rejoining the Paris Agreement is very important for the global fight against climate change.

First of all, it signals a re-engagement of one of the major economies in the global effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fight climate change. During the Trump presidency the US government engaged in many domestic practices, including removing important environmental safeguards, that ran counter to the spirit and the purpose of the Paris Agreement. I hope that under the Biden administration we will see a recommitment by the United States to the goals of the Paris Agreement and much greater ambition on reducing US emissions of greenhouse gases and moving towards a new zero carbon economy.

Secondly, the USA, in the time of President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, was a very influential party in climate change negotiations. President Obama’s round of international climate diplomacy during 2015 helped to develop momentum for an ambitious outcome to the negotiations on the Paris Agreement at COP 21. The withdrawal of the US from the Paris Agreement, dealt a psychological blow to the multilateral process, and its return signals the reappearance of a country that can use its influence to advocate for greater urgency and ambition in moving the world towards rapid decarbonization, perhaps even earlier than 2050.

Thirdly, the US was a major financial contributor to the Green Climate Fund, which was set up to provide developing countries and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) with the funding needed to undertake important climate change adaptation projects. There is a commitment for US$ 100 billion to be available annually to developing countries from 2020 to fight the effects of climate change. The Green Climate Fund, which is the principal financial instrument for making these funds available, is very short of the level of capitalization required. The withdrawal of the US from the Paris Agreement was also accompanied by the termination of contributions by the US to international climate finance. The reengagement of the US should result in not just a renewal of its financial support to the Green Climate Fund, but an increase to the bilateral assistance the US government provides to countries for environmental projects through the USAID.

The hope also is that the appointment of John Kerry, who was the US Secretary of State who participated in the negotiations of the Paris Agreement in 2015, as President Biden’s High-Level Climate Envoy, will signal the start of new leadership by the US on climate change, which will go further than what was done under President Obama. This is necessary because when President Obama left office in 2016, which coincidentally was the hottest year ever, global temperatures had increased 0.94 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Joe Biden won the presidential election in 2020, which tied 2016 for the hottest year ever, but the global temperature increase is now 1.2 degrees above pre-industrial levels. So, we are much closer to the limit we have set for SIDS of 1.5 degrees Celsius. So, we are dealing with the fierce urgency of now and we must see even greater global ambition to reduce greenhouse gases. The good thing for President Biden is that unlike President Obama, his party has control of the US Congress. This means Joe Biden should be able to get new climate-friendly legislation passed where Barack Obama could not. Therefore, I am hopeful that Joe Biden becomes the Planet Earth President that we so desperately need right now.

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