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PACJA urges Biden to keep promise to return US to Paris Agreement

The Pan-African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA) welcomes the election of Joe Biden as the next president of the United States (US) and urges him to keep his promise of returning America to the Paris Agreement on the very first day of his administration.

African civil society organisations are cautiously hopeful that the Biden administration and American leadership will rekindle dwindling global enthusiasm in addressing the climate crisis and will hold it accountable for inaction that keeps the world on a path to catastrophic climate change, Dr Mithika Mwenda, Executive Director of PACJA, said following Biden’s election.  

Paris Agreement
Jubilation greeted the adoption of the Paris Agreement in December 2015 in Paris, France. Photo credit: unfccc.int

“Millions of Africans are already dying from the adverse impacts of climate change, despite playing an insignificant role in creating the current crisis. America’s leadership in addressing climate change is not only sensible but fair to disproportionately affected communities in Africa and other developing countries,” Dr Mwenda said.

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Alone, the US has cumulated more carbon dioxide emissions than any other country since the industrial revolution. In 2017, the US accounted for roughly 16 per cent of global emissions with the pumping of 5.1 billion metric tons of energy-related CO2 into the atmosphere.

Yet on November 4, 2020, the US formally left the Paris Agreement.

America’s departure from the landmark agreement intended to mobilise a strong global response to the climate crisis kicked in a year after the outgoing president Donald Trump notified the United Nations of his intention. By leaving the Paris Agreement, the US abandons a promise to the world “to achieve an economy-wide target of reducing its emissions by 26-28 per cent below its 2005 level in 2025 and to make best efforts to reduce its emissions by 28 per cent” or 21 per cent of all current pledges by every other country under the Paris Agreement, according to observers.

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The US’ Paris Agreement withdrawal has raised fears of “a cascade of defections” or at best a slowdown in vital global action. For the developing world, reduced funding could mean that most countries are unable to fulfil their conditional emission reduction and adaptation pledges.

Biden, who has won the 2020 presidential election in the United States says he will re-join the agreement on the very first day of his administration. It is expected that under Biden, the US will have “the most progressive” position on climate change in the nation’s history and Biden has already pledged a USD 2 trillion investment package in clean energy and infrastructure.

America’s participation in the Paris Agreement and in leading the global effort to address the climate crisis is vital for multiple reasons. At the top of the list is the US’s historical responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions, which are the main drivers of global warming. In its first Nationally Determined Contribution, the US pledged a “path to deep decarbonisation” that could lead to an 80 per cent emission reduction by 2050 or more.

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The Pan-African Climate Justice Alliance welcomes the prospect of America’s recommitment to this goal under the Biden administration.

“America is a significant player in the push back against catastrophic climate change and must take leadership in emission reductions,” adds Dr Mwenda. “The absence of the US from the Paris Agreement not only raises the risk of missing significant emission cuts but could potentially weaken ambition from other countries and put the world on a path where capping mean temperature rise at 2 Celsius becomes more unlikely.”  

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