Ever since Donald Trump came to power, it has been clear the US will withdraw from the 2015 Paris agreement on climate change action, signed by 195 nations—even if, unlike the Kyoto Protocol, developing countries like China and India took on much larger emission cuts. Under President Obama, the US had agreed to cut 2005 emissions by 26-28% by 2020. While the Clean Power Plan that sought to cut fossil-fuel-fired generation of power was part of this plan, it never took off since 26 states challenged it in the courts—President Trump, nevertheless, directed the Environmental Protection Agency to repeal the policy. And while, under Obama, the US gave the Green Climate Fund (GCF) $1billion, there has been no progress after that. Under the Paris agreement, GCF was to get $100 billion a year by 2020, to help fund climate change action in developing countries. The US had pledged to contribute $3 billion to it in the first funding cycle (2015-2018), and though China and the EU have pledged to help fund poorer countries, India will continue to fend for itself—access to GCF funding could have helped it to scale up climate action. The US withdrawal could also have a ripple effect and, The Guardian reports, Vietnam is already non-committal on remaining in the accord post US withdrawal.
A sans-US scenario would mean global emissions could reach 57.3 gigatons of CO2 equivalent a year by 2025 as compared to 55.8 gigatons had the accord functioned as per plan. In such an event, Climate Interactive, a team of modellers backed by, among others, MIT Sloan School of Management, estimates that world would warm by 3.6oC by 2100 when compared with pre-industrial levels, with US alone adding 0.3-0.4oC. For perspective, the Paris accord hopes to keep the rise in global temperature to under 2oC—pinning its hopes on countries adhering to their Paris commitments and developed countries cutting emissions by 5% a year and developing countries by 3.5% a year after 2030. The planet heating beyond this target means it will experience irreversible extremes of climate. The economic cost of global warming—the Citigroup estimates $44 trillion of cumulative ‘lost’ GDP in the next five decades—has prompted companies to outline ambitious low-carbon paths. While a Goldman Sachs is aiming at becoming 100% renewables-powered, Apple has announced that it aims to achieve 100% recycling in its manufacturing—Apple chief Tim Cook publicly urged the president to not to quit the accord and Tesla’s Elon Musk has quit the White House advisories he was part of in protest.
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Trump’s announcement to quit the Paris accord will take 2-3 years to take effect but, were the US to pull out of the UN framework convention on climate change itself—the Paris accord was signed as part of the UN framework—its withdrawal will be effective immediately. While the impact of global warming reaching catastrophic levels will take some decades, there could be a immediate trade retaliation. President Trump’s reason for pulling out is to ‘make America great again’—by not agreeing to climate-mitigation measures like clean coal, he believes this will lower costs for US firms and make them more competitive. But, countries which have imposed large costs on their manufacturers would probably respond with higher tariffs on US products to ensure a level playing field; the US, in turn, would then respond with its own tariffs. While Trump is being short-sighted, part of the blame must also be placed on the Obama administration that succeeded in keeping the Paris accord voluntary, non-legally-binding and non-punitive.