Another important date looms on the calendar this coming week in addition to a national election billed as the most pivotal in decades. On Wednesday, November 4, 2020, the United States is set to become the only nation to officially withdraw from an international pact aimed at slowing climate change.
The exit of the world’s largest economy – and the second biggest emitter of greenhouse gases after China – comes three years to the day after President Trump began the drawn-out legal process of withdrawing the nation from the 2015 Paris climate accord.
But whether the U.S. exit turns out to be brief or lasting depends on the outcome of the presidential contest. A second Trump term would make clear that an international effort to slow the Earth’s warming will not include the U.S. government. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, meanwhile, has vowed to re-join the Paris accord as soon as he is inaugurated, and to make the United States a global leader on climate action.
For observers overseas, much as for voters in the United States, the differences could hardly be starker, the stakes hardly higher.
“For us, it could be a matter of survival,” said Carlos Fuller, the lead negotiator for Alliance of Small Island States, a group of 44 islands and low-lying coastal states around the world that act as a bloc at international climate talks.
Sea level rise is already threatening the ability of some island nations in the Pacific, such as Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands, to remain habitable, he said. In the Caribbean, ocean acidification and swelling seas are driving coral reefs toward extinction and imperilling fishing and tourism.
“The next 10 years for us are crucial,” Fuller said. “It’s imperative that we take action now.”
Trump’s election in 2016 surprised delegates who had gathered in Morocco to begin hashing out how to implement the sweeping promises the world had agreed to a year earlier in Paris. And his swift reversal in priorities upended the previous U.S. role in nudging nations to do more to combat global warming.
In the year-long run-up to the Paris climate agreement, President Barack Obama raised climate change in virtually every meeting with a foreign leader. “No nation, large or small, wealthy or poor, is immune,” he said in one U.N. speech.
Trump, by contrast, has repeatedly questioned the science around climate change and looked upon international cooperation as both suspect and expensive. Because of the complicated rules of the Paris agreement, the U.S. exit took until the final days of Trump’s term to complete. But his mind has been made up since June 1, 2017, when he announced that the United States would bow out.
Even before officially exiting, the Trump administration has damaged the Paris framework.
While pursuing an “America First” foreign policy, it has not made payments to the Green Climate Fund, which was created to help developing countries adapt to and mitigate the impacts of climate change. It has blocked progress at the Arctic Council, the intergovernmental group that grapples with climate-fuelled problems facing governments and indigenous communities in one of the world’s fastest-warming regions.
Courtesy: The Washington Post