Climate Change and the Paris Agreement: A Guide for the Perplexed

President Trump’s announcement on June 1 of his intention to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement has triggered intense reactions in the US and around the globe. As with any heated debate, it is very difficult to separate the facts from impassioned opinion. What follows is our attempt to bring clear answers to five key questions often raised by those of us who are trying to understand the implications of this turn of events.

Q: What is the Paris Climate Agreement? A: The Paris Climate Agreement was negotiated by representatives of the 196 parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at its 21st conference that took place in Paris in December 2015. The agreement was adopted by consensus on December 12, 2015 and came into effect on November 6, 2016 when the required number of countries had ratified and signed the Agreement. The aim of the nonbinding Agreement is to reduce global warming by reducing CO2 emissions, with each country voluntarily setting its own emission reduction target and regularly reporting on its progress in attaining that target.

Q: What was the role of the US in the Agreement prior to the withdrawal announcement? A: The US was one of the key architects of the Agreement at the Paris conference. On April 1 2016, the US and China, which together represent almost 40% of global CO2 emissions, issued a joint statement confirming that both countries would sign the Paris Climate Agreement. In September 2016 President Obama accepted the Agreement by executive order, knowing that it would not have been ratified by a vote in the Republican-dominated Senate.

It is worth noting that, with the withdrawal, there are now only three UNFCCC members that are not party to the Agreement: the US, Nicaragua, which never signed because it felt the Agreement did not go far enough, and Syria, which is preoccupied with a bloody civil war.

Q: Is climate change real? A: President Trump and key members of his administration, including Rick Perry, the Secretary of Energy, and Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, have expressed skepticism about whether global warming and climate change are real. A great deal has been written by experts on both sides of the climate-change divide and far be it from us to provide a definitive answer to this question. However, we will point out that, although they are not alone, the climate-change skeptics are certainly a minority within the scientific community. For example, in 2013 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which comprises thousands of the world’s climate scientists, announced that there was at least a 95% chance that CO2 was causing global warming. And the graph below, from NASA, clearly shows that, although atmospheric CO2 levels have fluctuated over the millennia (as measured in ice cores), since 1950 the level crossed over a new threshold and has been rising dramatically ever since.

Q: Can the Agreement survive without US participation? A: The international community diplomatically but clearly expressed its disappointment in President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement. The Agreement set an ambitious target of restricting the global temperature rise this century to no more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The US has the highest CO2 emissions in the world and it will be very difficult to reach the target set by the Agreement without US cooperation. It remains to be seen whether the other two main contributors to CO2 emissions – China and India – will step up to the plate to fill the void created by the US withdrawal.

Q: How has the US public responded to President Trump’s announcement? A: In a survey of registered voters conducted shortly after the 2016 election, 69% of the respondents said the US should participate in the Paris Climate Agreement – 86% of Democrats, 61% of Independents, and 51% of Republicans. Two thirds of the respondents felt that the US should reduce its greenhouse gas emissions regardless of what other countries do.

It is not surprising, then, that broad sectors of the American public have expressed opposition to President Trump’s decision to leave the Agreement. Major states such as California, New York and Massachusetts, as well as cities and private companies, have expressed their intention to proceed with curbing their carbon footprints as if the US had not withdrawn from the Agreement. There are groundswells taking place even within the fossil fuel industry, such as Exxon Mobil shareholders recently forcing the corporation’s management to prepare and publish a detailed analysis of how it intends to ensure a smooth transition to a low-carbon economy.

In conclusion, the Arad Group, as a smart water meter and smart water management company, is deeply committed to sustainability issues. There is a close connection between sustainable water stewardship and climate change, as we outlined in our December 2015 blog Smart Water Management and The Paris Climate Conference. We can only hope that, with or without the Paris Agreement, scientists and leaders around the globe will continue to seek responsible and innovative ways to reduce humanity’s impact on the planet, and to contain the potentially devastating effects of climate change.

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