The 2016 Paris Agreement represented the first global effort to address climate change. It’s become clear, however, that only a fraction of the 197 signatories are actually living up to it.
The agreement’s ambitious goals — to keep global warming below 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit by reducing greenhouse gas emissions globally by 50% by 2030 — are not legally binding or enforceable. There are no penalties in place for countries that fail to comply with the plans they submitted. Ultimately the agreement turned out to be an exercise in public relations.
In 2018, the Grantham Research Institute did an analysis of the signatories and found that only 17 countries are meeting their goals — nations like Samoa and Algeria that set a low bar to begin with. A 2019 report from the Universal Ecological Fund, “The Truth Behind the Climate Pledges,” reveals that almost 75% of the countries’ pledges are either partially or totally insufficient to contribute to reducing emissions by 50% by 2030.
The agreement will provide only a fractional decrease in temperature by the end of the century, and it will cost an estimated $1 trillion to $2 trillion per year.
The international process in dealing with climate change does not have a promising track record. The Kyoto protocol, which was a legally binding international agreement to reduce carbon emissions, saw a number of signatories, including Canada, Japan and Russia, withdraw — with no penalties — because they had no chance of meeting their targets. Kyoto did nothing to reduce global emissions and the U.S. withdrew entirely in 2001.
There was much consternation about the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. However, a year after pulling out, the U.S. led the world in reducing carbon emissions. Thanks to the shale boom, the United States now leads the world in both oil and gas production, while also doing more to reduce its energy-based carbon emissions than any other country. This is in large part because coal consumption has been declining in the U.S. since its peak in 2007.
The U.S. must continue to do more to reduce emissions in the next decade, but it doesn’t need the Paris Agreement to do it. The Trump administration’s strategy of broad industry deregulation and the repeal of the Obama-era Clean Power Plan — which set limits on carbon pollution from U.S. power plants — is misguided and ought to be reversed.
There must be a national framework in place to address the biggest sources of emissions in the U.S. — industry, transportation and electricity. It is ultimately the will of nations and their citizens that will address climate change.
— Tribune News Service