As ballots continued to be counted for the election in which President Donald Trump falsely declared victory over Democratic challenger Joe Biden, the Trump administration on Wednesday completed the one-year process of withdrawing the United States from the 2015 Paris climate agreement, drawing sharp criticism from scientists, environmentalists, and progressive politicians.
"We must redouble our efforts, and focus on bringing down the pillars of support of the fossil fuel economy in the U.S. and globally and fight for our right to a clean, safe, abundant and just future."
—May Boeve, 350.org
The primary aim of the pact, which went into effect four years ago, is to "strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius."
Rachel Cleetus, policy director for the Union of Concerned Scientists' Climate and Energy Program, said in a statement that "the U.S. exit from the Paris agreement is a shameful act and is especially cruel at a time when the world is reeling from devastating disasters worsened by climate change, including most recently Super Typhoon Goni and Hurricane Eta."
"The decision to leave the Paris agreement has left the United States globally isolated in its defiance of scientific realities, and will cause real harm to people, the planet and the economy," warned Cleetus, who has attended U.N. international climate talks and partnered with the global community on related policies for over a decade.
The U.S.’s exit from the historic 2015 Paris climate agreement takes effect today, capping four years of President Trump aggressively rolling back the Obama administration’s climate-change-mitigation policies. https://t.co/1tqhcQSzgI
— Scientific American (@sciam) November 4, 2020
Jean Su, director of the Center for Biological Diversity's Energy Justice program, declared that "the U.S. departure from the Paris agreement is a tragedy that highlights the fossil fuel industry's obscene power over our political institutions."
"Most Americans want bold action to confront the climate crisis, so we have to break that stranglehold," Su said. "U.S. leaders can't let powerful polluters continue to sabotage and subvert crucial efforts here and around the world to zero-out planet-warming emissions and put us on the path to ending oil, gas, and coal extraction."
While Trump has repeatedly attacked the deal—including with the June 2017 speech in which he made clear that he would abandon it—U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo officially announced the withdrawal a year ago. Biden, if he wins, could issue an executive order to reenter the accord. However, Politico explained some complications:
[A] signature alone might not cut it. The U.S. would also need to submit a formal plan for cutting emissions, known as a nationally determined contribution or NDC. The rules aren't clear about whether this is a prerequisite for joining or would have to follow shortly afterward.
Biden would have the Obama administration's NDC, which aimed to cut 26-28% of emissions between 2005 and 2025, sitting on the shelf. But he wants to raise the ambition of that pledge, along with much of the rest of the world, ahead of the COP26 U.N. talks in November 2021.
To do that, the administration would need a plan and policies—and, to implement it, the support of the U.S. Congress.
As of press time, the makeup of both congressional chambers was also uncertain, but Greenpeace USA executive director Annie Leonard was hopeful, saying Wednesday that "climate voters came out in record numbers this election, and we will win when all the votes are counted. Donald Trump started his presidency by promising to pull out of the Paris climate accords, and we're confident his presidency is coming to an end as his most egregious climate decision goes into effect."
The Paris agreement, "which practically every country on earth has joined, is the baseline for global action on climate," Leonard continued. "Joe Biden ran on climate in a year where addressing climate change is a top tier concern for voters and has made a commitment to bring us back into the climate accord once he is elected. Then he needs to go well beyond what's promised in the Paris accord to protect people and planet, and build back an economy that's clean and resilient."
Even while votes are still being counted, the Trump administration is defying the will of the American people and withdrawing from the Paris Agreement. https://t.co/x7xkdNKuN5
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— Earthjustice (@Earthjustice) November 4, 2020
In anticipation of the U.S. becoming the first nation to formally exit the accord, Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.)—who was reelected by a wide margin in Washington's 7th District—had urged Americans to vote, tweeting Tuesday: "Let's make this disastrous decision temporary."
Warning Wednesday that the withdrawal "has huge implications for the rest of the world in terms of tackling the climate crisis," May Boeve executive director of 350.org said that "the U.S. leaving the Paris climate agreement demonstrates what's at stake in this election. What we need now is all hands on deck for global climate leadership."
Echoing Boeve, Andrea McGimsey, senior director for Environment America's Global Warming Solutions campaign, declared that ditching the deal "is a heartbreaking act, because people across the country and the world need the United States to step up and lead on solving the climate crisis. We have such a powerful role to play."
Today, the US officially left the Paris Climate Agreement. It’s #TimeToAct and get on the right side of history. Local leaders across America have always said #WeAreStillIn, because climate action will make our economy stronger: https://t.co/OwSa9YF0Es
— Union of Concerned Scientists (@UCSUSA) November 4, 2020
While recognizing that the world's second-biggest emitter returning to the pact likely requires a Biden win, both Boeve and McGimsey acknowledged the lower-level elected officials who are still fighting for changes in agriculture, energy, transportation, and beyond that scientists say are essential to ensuring a habitable planet in the future.
"Whatever the final result of the election, don't count the United States out," said Boeve, noting that "there are millions of Americans who reject this regression, are committed to climate justice, and are demanding that the U.S. as a whole—including cities, states, and banks—uphold the goals of Paris and go beyond."
"We must redouble our efforts, and focus on bringing down the pillars of support of the fossil fuel economy in the U.S. and globally and fight for our right to a clean, safe, abundant, and just future," added the 350.org leader, whose group had helped lead calls around the world for a just, green recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.
McGimsey said that regardless of the election outcome, "thankfully, governors, state leaders, and local officials continue to work together to meet America's promise in the U.S. Climate Alliance. Their bold leadership on committing to 100% clean energy and electrifying society proves that while we need more at the national level, Americans at the grassroots are ready to lean in on this existential issue."
Whoever wins, the US is now officially out of the Paris Agreement. I talked to veterans of UN climate talks from the Global South about why Trump staying out is pouring gas on a fire, but Biden winning & re-entering is only a baseline for rebuilding trust https://t.co/QiKO6ZahVR
— Kate Aronoff (@KateAronoff) November 4, 2020
U.N. Climate Change responded to the withdrawal in a joint statement with Chile, France, Italy, and the United Kingdom, which said:
There is no greater responsibility than protecting our planet and people from the threat of climate change. The science is clear that we must urgently scale up action and work together to reduce the impacts of global warming and to ensure a greener, more resilient future for us all. The Paris agreement provides the right framework to achieve this. Our efforts must include support for those countries and communities at the frontline of climate change. It is vital that we take renewed action to hold the temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius and take best efforts to limit warming to 1.5 degrees.
On December 12 we will be celebrating the five year anniversary of the Paris agreement. We must ensure that it is implemented in full. We note with regret that the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement has formally come into effect today. As we look towards COP26 in Glasgow, we remain committed to working with all U.S. stakeholders and partners around the world to accelerate climate action, and with all signatories to ensure the full implementation of the Paris agreement.
Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, told Reuters that "the U.S. withdrawal will leave a gap in our regime, and the global efforts to achieve the goals and ambitions of the Paris agreement." She added that the UNFCCC—to which the United States remains a party—will be "ready to assist the U.S. in any effort in order to rejoin the Paris agreement."