The Paris Climate Agreement in the United States: What’s Next?

By on June 6, 2017
A global warming concept image showing the effect of environment climate change Thanapun | Shutterstock

In November 2016, the writing was already on the wall. Seven out of ten Americans agreed that the United States should stay in the Paris Climate Agreement, but, because of an electoral college which favored smaller, rural pro-Trump communities, we elected a President who was staunchly opposed to the will of 70% of the people. Given that 73% of the moderate and 40% of the conservative Republicans agreed to participate in curbing the effects of climate change, even his own party appeared to oppose him.

In the first installment of this series, we discussed the history of the Paris Climate Agreement, the commitments we made, and the subsequent steps we took to combat climate change. Next, we examined Trump’s speech at the Rose Garden and straightened out fact from fiction. Last but not least, we’ll take a look at what lies ahead for our country, now that we’re preparing to undergo the process of withdrawal.

What can we expect after leaving?

According to an article published in the New York Times, one of the major questions, which only time can answer, is whether or not other industrial countries in the Paris Climate Agreement will continue their efforts to reduce carbon emissions in the absence of the United States’ participation. While China emits 30% of the world’s total greenhouse gas, the United States is the second worst offender, contributing 15% toward the global amount. UNfortunately, due to the very voluntary nature of the agreement and to the fact that Congress never ratified our participation, there are no federal pieces of legislation to ensure adequate steps will be taken to reduce our carbon footprint.

Secondly, while signatories must wait four years before making a decision to leave the Agreement, Trump could shorten that process by 75% because President Obama adopted the terms of the Agreement through an executive order. In essence, this means the United States has never formally joined the Paris Climate Agreement.

Depending on how it’s interpreted, it may either be seen as a treaty — which requires the advice and consent of the Senate — or as a sole executive order (SOE). If Trump chooses to interpret it as an SOE, then we have only one year. Otherwise, in the best-case scenario, we will have to wait four more years until we can withdraw. In this case, Trump successor will be tasked with making the final decision.

What steps can we take to help minimize our carbon footprint?

While the most effective way for the United States to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions is to pass legislation capping carbon emissions across industries, there are still some very practical steps we as individuals can take to reduce our own carbon footprint.

Incorporate more fruits and vegetables into your daily diet.

Reduce your consumption of meat, especially beef and pork.

Minimize food waste by only buying the groceries you need and freezing leftovers.

Reduce the amount of electricity you consume by turning off lights and appliances, like TVs, when not in use.

If possible, walk, bike, or take public transportation rather than drive.

While this administration is hell-bent on taking us back to the era of coal-mining towns, smoggy skies, and smoky, gloomy manufacturing towns, cities and companies across the United States are fighting back. Additionally, Michael Bloomberg is pledging $15 million toward the effort to comply with the Paris Climate Agreement. But, money and legislation are just the beginning. Encourage those around you to reduce their food waste, the amount of electricity they use, and bike or use public transit whenever possible. There is hope, but it takes a collective effort and change in attitude to keep the worst of global warming’s effects at bay.