The 2016 Paris Agreement represented the first collective effort by all countries to address climate change. It’s become clear, however, that only a fraction of the 197 signatories are actually living up to it.
The agreement’s ambitious goals — to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) by reducing greenhouse gas emissions globally by 50 percent by 2030 — are not legally binding or enforceable. There are no penalties in place for countries who fail to comply with the plans they submitted. Ultimately the agreement turned out to be an exercise in public relations.
In 2018, the Grantham Research Institute did an analysis of the signatories and found that only 17 countries are meeting its goals — nations like Samoa and Algeria that set a low bar to begin with. A 2019 report from The Universal Ecological Fund, “The Truth Behind the Climate Pledges,” reveals that almost 75 percent of the country’s pledges are either partially or totally insufficient to contribute to reducing emissions by 50 percent by 2030.
The agreement will only provide a fractional decrease in temperature by the end of the century, and it will cost a fortune. Estimates are anywhere between $1 to 2 trillion per year. According to the UNFCC, the group that organized the Paris agreement, the expected temperature reduction by the end of the century will be about 0.17 C, while costing somewhere between $60-120 trillion.
The international process in dealing with climate change does not have a promising track record. The Kyoto protocol, which was a legally binding international agreement to reduce carbon emissions, saw a number of signatories, including Canada, Japan, and Russia withdraw — with no penalties — because they had no chance of meeting their targets.
Kyoto did nothing to reduce global emissions, and the United States withdrew entirely in 2001. Further, no one remembers what happened at the Rio Summit in 1992 or at the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference in 2009 because nothing was accomplished.
There was much consternation about the Trump Administration’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, however, a year after pulling out, the United States led the world in reducing carbon emissions. Thanks to the shale boom the United States now leads the world in both oil and gas production, while also doing more to reduce its energy-based carbon emissions than any other country.
This is in large part because coal consumption has been declining in the United States since its peak in 2007. According to the International Energy Agency, the United States saw the largest carbon-dioxide emissions decline from electricity generation in 2019 among nations.
The United States must continue to do more to reduce emissions in the next decade, but it doesn’t need the Paris Agreement to do it. The Trump Administration’s strategy of broad industry deregulation and the repeal of the Obama-era Clean Power Plan — which set limits on carbon pollution from U.S. power plants — is misguided and ought to be reversed.
There must be a national framework in place to address the biggest sources of emissions in the United States — industry, transportation, and electricity. It is ultimately the will of nations, and the citizens that pressure their governments, that will address climate change.
The Paris Agreement has not translated into actual reductions in emissions, it is costly, and most countries are not living up to it.
On Nov. 4, the day after the presidential election, the United States was officially no longer in the Paris Agreement.
When Joe Biden becomes president, he should keep it that way.
– THE TOLEDO BLADE