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The United States is set to formally exit the Paris Agreement on Nov. 4—one day after the presidential election, which is widely seen as one of the most contentious in recent US history, and will have consequences for the global effort to combat the climate emergency.
On June 1, 2017, at a Rose Garden ceremony, President Donald Trump made his intentions known to pull the United States from the Paris Agreement—a nonbinding international agreement ratified by 189 countries committing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and rein in global warming.
The long-term goal of the Paris Agreement is to keep the global temperature in this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The agreement also seeks to enable partner countries to effectively deal with climate change, and making financial support available to help with lowering carbon emission and improve resilience against climate-related threats to infrastructure.”
But this global handshake to combat climate change did not resonate with President Trump, who argued instead that the Paris Agreement will lead to stunted growth in the US jobs market and manufacturing sector, including in the natural gas, coal mining, steel, and cement industries. At the same Rose Garden ceremony, Trump also claimed developing countries like China and India were given undue flexibility on emissions targets, which was unfair to the United States. He promised to get the US a better deal, which has yet to materialize.
America’s departure from the Paris Agreement is widely seen as a setback to the global efforts to stem the menacing effects of climate change, such as freak weather events, intense heat waves sweeping the Northern Hemisphere, increasingly frequent hurricanes and storms, raging wildfires, and the COVID-19 pandemic. And more pessimism has since set in as countries around the world miss the targets they pledged to achieve under the Agreement.
In the 2019 report “The Truth Behind the Paris Agreement Climate Pledges,” climate scientists warned that failure to reduce GHG emissions by 2030 “will cost the world a minimum of $2 billion per day in economic losses from weather events made worse by human-induced climate change. Moreover, weather events and patterns will hurt human health, livelihoods, food, and water, as well as biodiversity.”
The report made it plain that the majority of commitments made by the 189 countries to lowering GHG emissions for 2030 are not nearly enough to keep global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). It added that “some of the world’s largest carbon emitters will continue to increase their emissions.”
In a interview with The Real News, climate scientist Carlos Nobré from São Paulo, Brazil, said the 2020 US elections will be decidedly consequential for international efforts to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, keeping global temperatures at bay, and transitioning away from the fossil fuel-based economy.
“We are in this very critical moment in humanity’s history. There are many governments closely associated with the interests of the fossil fuel industry, coal, natural gas, petroleum. And these are very powerful vested interests—something like 18% of global GDP comes from these energy sources,” Nobré said.
He added that most Western governments, including the United States, are very much looking after the interests of the fossil fuel industry, which has caused most of the global warming in the 20th century. Nobré also cautioned that getting back on track with global agreements such as the Paris Agreement and the Green New Deal is essential to forge a global alliance to combat the climate emergency of a warming planet.
“It’s very decisive, the results of this US election for the West, because [if Biden wins], it means the US will join Europe, Japan, even China. And of course, if these countries do that, all of the developing countries will find the proper space for that too,” Nobré said. “Otherwise, if the US goes in the other direction [and Trump wins], that would mean four more years of a big battle to prevent the planet from going out of control and really go on the path to unsustainably for a long time.”
The scientist warned of catastrophic consequences if countries fail to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius: “If we continue increasing emissions, and reach 4 degrees Celsius by 2100, then we are moving into a situation—the earth becoming a hothouse, as we call it. A hothouse, because if we keep increasing emissions, there will be a natural disturbance in ecosystems. For instance, the Amazon will disappear. 70% of the forest. That means 300 billion tons of carbon being released into the atmosphere.”
Nobré maintains that solar power and wind energy plants are already cheaper than any other form of energy, be it nuclear, fossil fuel, or hydro power.
“In many parts of the world, even in the United States, renewable energy generates a huge amount of jobs, sometimes 10 to 15 times more than, let’s say, coal,” Nobré said. “So, it’s really nonsense not to move in that direction. It makes a lot of sense for the economy. And for the environment.”
But for now, winning the election is the only thing that seems to matter to the candidates. In the recent presidential debates, both the Republican and Democratic nominees outrightly favored fracking and publicly disassociated themselves from the Green New Deal. In the last presidential debate, Joe Biden made his clearest commitment yet to phasing out oil and gas and transitioning to alternative sources of energy, which has resonated with progressive leaning political voices.
Biden is also committed to rejoining the Paris Agreement, which would return the United States to a leadership role on climate issues. Though mostly symbolic, Nobré argues this will at least be a boost for the struggle against climate change and will bring a renewed commitment globally to achieve the goals set out in the Paris Agreement.
For now, left-leaning progressives among the Democrats are united with their moderate comrades in defeating Trump and flipping the Senate as the first necessary step toward pushing the potential Biden administration to embrace a future beyond fracking and fossil fuel subsidies.