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14th Aug 2022

US leaves Paris climate deal

  • EU commissioner said US "turned its back" on the fight against climate change (Photo: whitehouse.gov)

The United States is pulling out of the international climate treaty signed in Paris in 2015, its president Donald Trump announced on Thursday (1 June).

“In order to fulfil my solemn duty to protect America and its citizens, the US will withdraw from the Paris climate accord,” Trump said.

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  • Trump: 'We don't want other countries' leaders laughing at us anymore' (Photo: Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

The US president said the Paris deal “punishes the United States”, but added that he was open to negotiations on a new or revised environmental accord.

Trump said he was “someone who cares deeply about the environment”, but said the “Paris accord is very unfair ... to the United States”.

America's leader noted that other countries would have an “economic edge” over the US if it held on to its commitments.

“We don't want other countries' leaders laughing at us anymore,” he said.

His speech had been announced a full day ahead, which led to widespread speculation.

Several media quoted sources on Wednesday, saying that the decision had already been made to leave the Paris deal.

This led to a flurry of comments from EU officials and national ministers.

On Wednesday, EU commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker said Trump did not “fully understand” the Paris climate deal, while EU council chief Donald Tusk pleaded with the US president not to “change the (political) climate for the worse”.

The United States signed the Paris treaty, the world's first-ever global agreement on tackling climate change, in 2015, when Democrat president Barack Obama was still at the helm.

The unique thing about the Paris deal compared to previous attempts to curb greenhouse gas emissions was its bottom-up approach.

Each country pledged what they would do to reduce their impact on the climate.

The US, under Obama, promised it would reduce its emissions of greenhouse gases by between 26 to 28 percent in 2025, compared to its 2005 level.

EU: Sad day

While Trump was still speaking, the European Commission sent a press release with a comment from its climate commissioner, Miguel Arias Canete.

“Today is a sad day for the global community, as a key partner turns its back on the fight against climate change,” said Canete.

He noted that the Paris agreement is “not prescriptive”.

“The Paris Agreement allows each party to forge its own path to contributing to the goals of preventing dangerous climate change. So there is room for the US to chart its own course within the Paris Agreement,” Canete said, adding that the EU is “on the right side of history”.

Finland's environment minister Kimmo Tiilikainen said the decision will damage the US' reputation.

“The richest nation in the world shows its negligence regarding the future of mankind,” he said in a press release.

EU & China as locomotive

Earlier on Thursday, EUobserver spoke to Jo Leinen, a member of the European Parliament's environment committee.

The German MEP said he expected Trump to “blow up” the Paris agreement, because he had promised to do so in his election campaign.

Leinen said it would now be up to the EU and China to be the “locomotive” of climate action.

Internally, Leinen said a US exit from Paris would make it “harder” for the EU to decide on additional climate action.

“I easily could see some of the newer member states argue that we should not be too ambitious,” he said.

Who compensates for US?

A relevant question will be whether other countries will pick up the slack from the US.

There is only a finite amount of greenhouse gases that can be allowed to be emitted.

Once a certain threshold is passed and global warming reaches 2 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels, scientists expect climatic disruptions on a massive scale.

“If the second biggest emitter is no longer following a low-carbon strategy, it has to be compensated by others,” said Leinen.

He hoped that clean technology could make up for some of that compensation.

While Trump's decision is of high symbolic value, the federal government in the US is one of several players. Many governments at state and local level have said they would continue climate-friendly policies, despite the new occupant of the White House.

The move may bring to memory the previous international climate treaty, the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

Although president Bill Clinton signed that UN treaty, Congress never ratified it.

But Kyoto had binding reduction targets to only a limited number of nations, most of them in Europe.

By being outside the Paris agreement, the US is only accompanied by Nicaragua and Syria.

EU and 195 countries adopt Paris climate accord

Deal cements new bottom-up approach which involves pledges by every UN state to reduce greenhouse emissions, as well as a review mechanism to jack up ambition every five years.

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