The Paris Agreement: Why it is a Mistake for the US to Withdraw

Written by: Samuel Brown

Since the start of President Trump’s term, administration officials have repeatedly signaled the administration’s intention to withdraw the United States from the 2015 Paris Agreement. This agreement is a landmark deal that was reached at the conclusion of the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference hosted in Paris, France. This is a rare international agreement due to the fact that nearly all nations on earth united with the single purpose of combating climate change and working towards a carbon free future. More specifically, the goal of the agreement was stated as strengthening the international response to climate change and attempting to keep the increase in global temperatures below 2º Celsius above pre-industrial levels. In addition, the agreement also seeks to increase the ease with which member countries are able to combat climate change. Key aspects of the agreement include, encouraging member states to reach peak greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) as soon as possible, to encourage member states to develop increasingly rigorous standards for reductions in national contributions to global emissions, and encouraging the creation of carbon sinks to lessen the impact of GHG emissions. 

These goals, while very difficult to attain, have been embraced by the vast majority of countries around the world. Currently, only 10 countries across the globe, including Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Yemen, have signed but not yet ratified this agreement— still, that is only 10 out of 195 total signatories. Despite the fact that there are still lingering questions regarding certain individual states’ commitment to the agreement, such as Russia and Saudi Arabia, the extraordinarily broad acceptance, which in 2019 is very difficult to attain in any issue area, illustrates the level of support that the Paris Agreement holds in the international community. 

All of this brings us to November 4th when President Trump reiterated his intention to leave the Paris Agreement. Although he has made this statement a number of times since taking office, this iteration carried more weight than it had in the past — November 4, 2019 was the first day that, under the conditions set in the Paris Agreement, a state could officially begin the proceedings that would remove it from the Agreement. As a result, Trump’s announcement that he would begin withdrawal proceedings has created a storm of controversy among the environmentally minded in both the United States and around the world. 

This protest by many is entirely warranted. As recent world-wide climate protests have shown, the international public has a vested interest in the continuation of current efforts to curb climate change as well as the creation of new movements and efforts. Currently, the Paris Agreement represents the single most important effort by the international community to fulfill these desires. As a result, President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the agreement represents a slap in the face to those who will have to endure the effects of climate change for the next 10, 50, or 100 years. One does not have to look far to spot signs that climate change has already begun to affect the lives of those around the world. For example, the increasing frequency and intensity of major storms, the spreading of certain diseases beyond their historical epicenters, and the increased frequency of crop loss caused by droughts or floods have all been noted in many regions around the world — directly due to a changing climate.

Although there are many legitimate criticisms that can be leveled against the Paris Agreement — particularly that it does not go far enough to address climate change— it is currently the best and most comprehensive international agreement that exists to address the issue of climate change. As a result, President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Agreement is not only foolish and contrary to the clear consensus of the international community but also dangerous and it could have very real effects on human life around the world in the coming decades.