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The United States on Wednesday officially became the only country in the world refusing to participate in global climate efforts, with the fate of the crisis hanging on the still uncalled presidential election.
The withdrawal of the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement, an international pact to try to avert dangerous temperature increases, leading to more extreme weather and threatening world food supplies, have automatically taken effect this November 4, with US elections still without a confirmed winner. Trump’s administration set the U.S. exit in motion a year ago, but it didn’t automatically take effect until 4 November.
Already, the Earth is more than 1C hotter than it was before industrialization, mostly because of humans burning fossil fuels. This last year has demonstrated how the climate crisis will touch every American's lives, with more heatwaves, intense wildfires, record hurricanes, rising seas, floods, and droughts.
The departure makes the United States the only country of 197 signatories to have withdrawn from the agreement struck in 2015.
Trump’s challenger, Joe Biden, would immediately rejoin the agreement and push lawmakers to spend big on green infrastructure to try to reverse the economic downturn from the pandemic. Should he win, however, Biden’s ambitions may well be stunted by the U.S. Senate, which appeared to be leaning towards remaining in Republican control as of Wednesday morning.
Trump would intensify his quest to expand fossil fuels, undermine climate science, and rescind environmental protections. A second Trump term would be a stunning loss to the climate movement and reverberate worldwide.
The US on Wednesday formally left the Paris Agreement, a global pact forged five years ago to avert the threat of catastrophic climate change. https://t.co/a3IUQqLPzO
Pete Betts, the former lead climate negotiator for the EU and the UK, said global action would continue, albeit at a slower pace without the U.S. “The big picture is that Paris will continue, come what may,” Betts said. “Although I don’t think anyone will follow Trump if you’ve got the world’s biggest economy and second-biggest emitter saying it doesn’t want to take action itself – it is a little bit of a dampener on ambition.”
A Biden administration could work with the EU and China to agree on bigger targets. Last month, China announced it would try to zero out its climate emissions by 2060. While China is the most prominent current emitter, the US has contributed more climate pollution historically than any other country. A handful of states have not ratified the Paris agreement, but the US is the only one to leave the deal formally.
Phil Duffy, president and executive director of the Woodwell Climate Research Center, said the election is also critical to the science the U.S. government conducts and how its experts are perceived since “an erosion of trust” under Trump.
The one certainty is that we can expect a continuation of a “seemingly unending series of climate-related natural disasters – hurricanes, wildfires, and floods that are essentially irreversible,” Duffy said. “But the policies we put in place now will determine how much worse those things get.”