On the 1st of June 2017, Donald Trump announced that the United States would be pulling out of the Paris climate change agreement. The announcement was met with criticism worldwide, with dissenting voices ranging from Greenpeace to the European Union to academics such as Neal deGrasse Tyson and Noam Chomsky to celebrities like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Tom Morello to blue-chip companies like Facebook, Apple and Microsoft to major energy providers such as ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and Shell. The move was even derided by, believe it or not, North Korea who’s foreign ministry said, “This is the height of egoism and moral vacuum seeking only their own well-being even at the cost of the entire planet.” We as citizens of this planet have to analyze what this move means and what its implications are.
The aim of the agreement was to limit global temperatures from rising above two degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels. When the two degrees threshold is passed there will be a much higher risk of floods, unpredictable weather, food and water scarcity and an increase in sea levels. The deal was signed by every country on the planet, with the exception of Syria, who’s at war, and Nicaragua, who felt that the deal wasn’t enough and are planning to be 90% reliant on renewable energy by 2020.
In order to bypass the United States congress, a large amount of who are climate changer deniers, the Paris accords were drafted as a nonbinding agreement meaning that if a signatory doesn’t commit to the targets they wouldn’t be punished. As the only remaining superpower, the biggest economy and the second largest current contributor to climate change, it was thought that US’s contributions would encourage other countries to curb their emissions.
With the US withdrawing, the EU and China have taken up the charge and maintain that they will meet their targets. While China is the world’s largest pollution it’s also been taking positive steps in advocating the use of clean technology. In a perfect world China would close down its coal power plants and switch to renewables over night.
China is a monolithic country with a population of nearly two billion. That’s not stopping it from achieving economic progress and curb emissions at the same time. The country has been renewing is coal power plants to make them cleaner and more efficient while also investing heavily in alternative energy sources. “The world’s largest floating solar plant was launched in Anhui province in May; the world’s largest solar farm was put in motion in Qinghai province earlier this year. China is the largest producer of solar energy the world, hitting 77.42 gigawatts of solar power capacity by the end of 2016. Under China’s 13th Five Year Plan covering the years 2016-2020, China aims to have 110 gigawatts of solar capacity installed by 2020.”
This doesn’t mean that the US doesn’t have a part to play. Politicians at the state level have vowed to meet the targets set out by the climate deal despite a lack of involvement from the federal government. “The local commitment to acting on climate change is as strong as ever,” a group of 70 mayors and city council members, known as the National League of Cities, wrote in an open letter, “As the elected officials closest and most directly accountable to residents, we cannot let our communities down by taking a step back on our actions and commitments to address climate change.”
The EU has promised to work along side US businesses and state politicians to implement the targets set out by the Paris deal. California Governor Jerry Brown has recently signed a deal with the Chinese Science and Technology Minister Wan Gang to increase collaboration in mitigating climate change. "Nobody can stay on the sidelines. We can't afford any dropouts in the tremendous human challenge to make the transition to a sustainable future," said Governor Brown, "Disaster still looms and we've got to make the turn." Brown had even previously signed similar agreements with two Chinese provinces.
Although the Unite States federal government has seemingly forsaken the fight against climate change the world has not. China, Europe and US politicians at the state level have swooped in and filled the void left by the US federal government. We don’t know if Trump pulling out the Paris deal will lead to other countries doing the same. We do know that the majority of the world believes in the Paris climate agreement. We do know that the fight against climate change is far from over. Ultimately we can’t know for sure what the implications of Trump’s actions will be, but we do know that there is still hope. The road ahead may be murky but its still one worth traveling.
Note from the author:
ilosofy is not a site that will often provide commentary on current events (even though this isn’t that current) and will focus on ideas that shape world events rather than the events themselves. I had written this piece some months ago but was apprehensive about publishing it on ilosofy. Environmental issues are incredibly dear to my heart. As an environmental engineer, I have dedicated my career to environmental protection due to my belief that it is the most important existential issue facing humanity today. I felt that I owed it to myself to publish this article.