The United States left the Paris Agreement on Wednesday and became the first country to ever withdraw from an international pact on climate change, as the fate of its presidential election hangs in the balance.
It may turn out to be a temporary blip before Democrat Joe Biden’s administration rejoins the agreement. Otherwise, global efforts to control global warming will have to continue without the government for the world’s second largest carbon emissions.
Either way, it all depends on the outcome of a knife-edge poll in which both candidates have predicted victory.
Biden has proposed a $ 1.7 trillion plan to take the United States to net zero carbon emissions by 2050, while President Donald Trump has aggressively championed fossil fuels, questioned the science of climate change and weakened other environmental protections.
If Trump wins, it is up to states, cities and businesses to take the lead.
However, a report by the America’s Pledge group last month showed that even without Washington’s help, action by these groups would still enable the United States to reduce emissions by 37 percent by 2030.
“The easy part is, relatively speaking, sending a message to the UN that the United States intends to join the Paris Agreement,” Andrew Light, a climate adviser to former President Barack Obama, told AFP.
The United States will still be “out of the conversation” when Britain and the United Nations hold a climate summit on December 12, the fifth anniversary of Paris, but are ready to engage again.
According to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in order to have a chance of keeping global warming below the end of the century below 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit), net emissions must be zero around the middle of the century.
The target warming level was chosen to avoid triggering a series of catastrophic clipping points that could force humanity to live only on the planet’s northern and southern latitudes.
Niklas Hohne, climate researcher at Wageningen University in the Netherlands and a member of a simulation group called Climate Action Tracker, wrote on Twitter that “Biden’s climate plan alone could reduce the temperature rise in the order of 0.1 ° C.
“This election could be a starting point for international climate policy. Every tenth degree counts,” he said.
Environmentalists say Trump’s announcement that he would withdraw from the Paris Agreement three years ago made it easier for countries such as Australia, Saudi Arabia and Brazil to weaken their own ambitions.
Many of the devastating effects of climate change are already being felt today: the loss of sea ice, where the Arctic is expected to be ice-free by the middle of the century; accelerated sea level rise, longer and more intense droughts and heat waves, stronger hurricanes and shifts in precipitation patterns.
Small island nations face being completely immersed.
Even if the United States joins again, it will face a credibility gap – it was, after all, also an architect of the Kyoto agreement, which it never ratified.
That makes it crucial to ensure that a shift toward climate action is permanent and not something that a future Republican administration will just regret, Light said.
“We know from the poll that climate action is not this red versus blue, Republican versus democratic issue out there in the real world,” he said in a recent Pew poll that found more than 80 percent of Americans agreed, that humans contribute to the climate. change, including a majority of Republicans.
The key to this plan will be for Biden to deliver on its promise of massive economic stimulus and job creation.
There are already signs that market forces are beginning to tip the energy balance from fossil fuels to renewable energy, but the transition is far behind.
Despite Trump’s efforts to revive the coal industry, more capacity was withdrawn during his presidency than during Obama’s second term, while renewable energy hit record highs of production and consumption in 2019.
Natural gas, driven by hydraulic fracturing or “fracking”, continues to drive the energy mix and accounts for 35 percent of production.
Biden considers the fuel a “bridge” to renewable energy and has said he will not ban fracking.