Paris Agreement: US Withdrawal and its Repercussions
The Paris Agreement was adopted by the participants of the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) on 12 December 2015. The provisions agreed upon by the parties are aimed at keeping the global average temperature below 2°C above pre-industrial level. In addition, the parties pledged to "pursue efforts" to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C. The Conference participants also agreed provide national inventory reports on anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions and provide other information necessary for assessing the implementation progress.
The Paris Agreement entered into force on 4 November 2016 after the threshold of 55 ratifying parties responsible for at least 55% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions had been met. The Agreement has been ratified by 152 states to date.
The US withdrawal raised concerns over the prospects of the agreement itself and international climate change cooperation in general. Signing Presidential Executive Order on termination of his country's participation in the Agreement on 1 June 2017, Donald Trump justified his decision by the need to protect the interests of American industry and workers, as well as reduce the costs for American taxpayers. D. Trump also announced the termination of US contributions to the Green Climate Fund.
Despite concerns over the developing countries’ possible reaction to the world’s largest economy’s withdrawal, none of the signatories to the Agreement followed the example of the United States. On the contrary, the decision of the American leader faced condemnation both domestically and internationally. The representatives of US states’ and cities’ authorities expressed their support to the objectives of the Paris Agreement and readiness to continue its implementation in the future. On 1 June 2017, mayors of 343 American cities signed a statement committing to uphold the obligations under the Agreement. Several state governors also supported this initiative. However, despite serious opposition to the withdrawal from the climate agreement by local authorities, the media and a part of the business community, the Executive Order reflects the standpoint of a significant number of industrialists, energy companies, as well as the Republican Party, who traditionally oppose any limitations imposed by international obligations on the US domestic economic policy.
The United States G7 partners also expressed their disappointment over President Trump’s decision. In the Taormina G7 summit declaration, all the leaders, except D. Trump, committed “to swiftly implement the Paris Agreement”. Thus, the position of the United States undermined the traditional G7 consensus on climate change issues.
The G20 Hamburg summit communique is likely to contain similar language on environment, with the United States abstaining from the G20 Action Plan on Climate and Energy for Growth.
Large developing countries’ response to the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement was also generally negative. Chinese President Xi Jinping stated that his country would continue its efforts to contain climate change regardless of the position of the United States. Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said he did not expect a "chain reaction" after the US decision, and also noted that the US companies are free to increase efficiency and reduce carbon emissions independently. Nevertheless, Russian President Vladimir Putin called for a cautious approach and a more careful assessment of specific technical parameters of the Agreement, and therefore "would refrain from judging President Trump."
The Russian Federation, despite signing and repeatedly expressing support for the objectives of the Paris Agreement, has not yet ratified the document. On 3 November 2016, the Russian Government approved a set of measures to improve the state regulation of greenhouse gas emissions and prepare for the ratification of the Paris Agreement. The proposed plan provides for assessments of macroeconomic and socio-economic consequences of ratification, with the submission of a final report exploring the feasibility of ratifying the Paris Agreement to the President of Russia by the first quarter of 2019.
From the formal standpoint, according to the provisions of Article 28 of the Paris Agreement, the effective withdrawal from the Agreement is possible only four years after its entry into force (it is possible to file a notification for withdrawal after three years, with another year before it takes effect), that is, on 4 November 2020. Thus, by the time the United States can formally terminate all participation in the Paris Agreement, preliminary results of the next presidential elections will most likely be announced.
Nevertheless, the Paris Agreement, as well as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, does not contain any legally binding provisions or entail sanctions for non-compliance, which once again calls into question the practicality of a formal withdrawal from the agreement, especially taking into account the reputational and political repercussions, considered above.
Author: Andrei Sakharov, Researcher, CIIR RANEPA