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    Paris climate accords: US notifies UN of intention to withdraw

    November 05, 2019

    The United States has formally notified the United Nations of its intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement.The notification begins a one-year process of exiting the global climate change accord, culminating the day after the 2020 US election.The agreement brought together 188 nations to combat climate change.Announcing the plan last month, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the agreement had imposed an "unfair economic burden" on the United States.The Paris agreement committed the US and 187 other countries to keeping rising global temperatures below 2C above pre-industrial levels and attempting to limit them even more, to a 1.5C rise.The decision to withdraw - taken by President Donald Trump - made the US the world's sole non-signatory and prompted high-level efforts by the European Union to keep the agreement on track.A report issued in December 2018 by the Institute of International and European Affairs suggested President Trump's decision to leave had done "very real damage" to the Paris agreement, creating "moral and political cover for others to follow suit".The report cited the examples of Russia and Turkey, which both declined to ratify the deal despite signing.
    The US issued its formal notification on the first day it was possible to do so, firing the starting gun on the long process of extricating the country from the 2015 agreement. The withdrawal is still subject to the outcome of next year's US presidential election - if Mr Trump loses, the winner may decide to change course.But scientists and environmentalists fear the effect the Trump administration will have on climate protections in the meantime. It has conducted what critics have called a seek-and-destroy mission against US environmental legislation.Mr Trump promised to turn the US into an energy superpower, and has attempted to sweep away a raft of pollution legislation to reduce the cost of producing gas, oil and coal. He characterised former US President Barack Obama’s environmental clean-up plans as a war on American energy.Announcing his decision to withdraw, last year, Mr Trump said: "I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris. I promised I would exit or re-negotiate any deal which fails to serve America's interests."But reports suggest the Trump administration made no effort to renegotiate the Paris agreement, waiting instead until the first possible day to exit.The US contributes about 15% of global emissions of carbon, but it is also a significant source of finance and technology for developing countries in their efforts to fight rising temperatures.
    Climate change, or global warming, refers to the damaging effect of gases, or emissions, released from industry and agriculture on the atmosphere. The Paris accord is meant to limit the global rise in temperature attributed to emissions.
    Countries agreed to:
    Keep global temperatures "well below" the level of 2C (3.6F) above pre-industrial times and "endeavour to limit" them even more, to 1.5C
    Limit the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by human activity to the same levels that trees, soil and oceans can absorb naturally, beginning at some point between 2050 and 2100
    Review each country's contribution to cutting emissions every five years so they scale up to the challenge
    Enable rich countries to help poorer nations by providing "climate finance" to adapt to climate change and switch to renewable energy
    What is in the Paris climate agreement?
    By Helen Briggs
    The deal unites all the world's nations in a single agreement on tackling climate change for the first time in history.Coming to a consensus among nearly 200 countries on the need to cut greenhouse gas emissions is regarded by many observers as an achievement in itself and has been hailed as "historic".The Kyoto Protocol of 1997 set emission cutting targets for a handful of developed countries, but the US pulled out and others failed to comply.However, scientists point out that the Paris accord must be stepped up if it is to have any chance of curbing dangerous climate change.Pledges thus far could see global temperatures rise by as much as 2.7C, but the agreement lays out a roadmap for speeding up progress.
    What are the key elements?To keep global temperatures "well below" 2.0C (3.6F) above pre-industrial times and "endeavour to limit" them even more, to 1.5CTo limit the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by human activity to the same levels that trees, soil and oceans can absorb naturally, beginning at some point between 2050 and 2100
    To review each country's contribution to cutting emissions every five years so they scale up to the challengeFor rich countries to help poorer nations by providing "climate finance" to adapt to climate change and switch to renewable energy.
    The goal of preventing what scientists regard as dangerous and irreversible levels of climate change - judged to be reached at around 2C of warming above pre-industrial times - is central to the agreement.The world is already nearly halfway there at almost 1C and many countries argued for a tougher target of 1.5C - including leaders of low-lying countries that face unsustainable sea levels rises in a warming world.The desire for a more ambitious goal has been kept in the agreement - with the promise to "endeavour to limit" global temperatures even more, to 1.5C.Scotland (SCCS) which said 70% of respondents supported greater action to tackle climate change.
    Dr Bill Hare, CEO of Climate Analytics, says the objective is "remarkable"."It is a victory for the most vulnerable countries, the small islands, the least developed countries and all those with the most to lose, who came to Paris and said they didn't want sympathy, they wanted action."Meanwhile, for the first time, the accord lays out a longer-term plan for reaching a peak in greenhouse emissions "as soon as possible" and achieving a balance between output of man-made greenhouse gases and absorption - by forests or the oceans - "by the second half of this century"."If agreed and implemented, this means bringing down greenhouse-gas emissions to net zero within a few decades. It is in line with the scientific evidence we presented," says John Schellnhuber, Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.Some have described the deal as "woolly" because some of the targets were scaled down during the negotiations."The Paris Agreement is only one step on a long road, and there are parts of it that frustrate and disappoint me, but it is progress," says Greenpeace International executive director Kumi Naidoo."This deal alone won't dig us out the hole we're in, but it makes the sides less steep."
    Money has been a sticking point throughout the negotiations.Developing countries say they need financial and technological help to leapfrog fossil fuels and move straight to renewables.Currently they have been promised US $100bn (£67bn) a year by 2020 - not as much as many countries would like.The agreement requires rich nations to maintain a $100bn a year funding pledge beyond 2020, and to use that figure as a "floor" for further support agreed by 2025.The deal says wealthy countries should continue to provide financial support for poor nations to cope with climate change and encourages other countries to join in on a voluntary basis.Dr Ilan Kelman of UCL, London, says the lack of time scales is "worrying"."The starting point of $100bn per year is helpful, but remains under 8% of worldwide declared military spending each year."
    What happens next?The national pledges by countries to cut emissions are voluntary, and arguments over when to revisit the pledges - with the aim of taking tougher action - have been a stumbling block in the talks.The pact promises to make an assessment of progress in 2018, with further reviews every five years.As analysts point out, Paris is only the beginning of a shift towards a low-carbon world, and there is much more to do."Paris is just the starting gun for the race towards a low-carbon future," says WWF-UK Chief Executive David Nussbaum.Prof John Shepherd of the National Oceanography Centre, University of Southampton, says the agreement includes some welcome aspirations but few people realise how difficult it will be to achieve the goals."Since the only mechanism remains voluntary national caps on emissions, without even any guidance on how stringent those caps would need to be, it is hard to be optimistic that these goals are likely to be achieved."
    Paris climate pullout: The worst is yet to come
    Matt McGrath
    Environment correspondent
    @mattmcgrathbbcon Twitter
    1 June 2018
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    Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
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    President Trump referred to temperature rises as he announced his intention to pull the US out of the Paris climate pact
    President Trump's announcement a year ago that he was withdrawing the US from the Paris climate agreement may have been the best and worst thing that could have happened to the deal, at the same time.

    "The most important piece of good news, and it wasn't a foregone conclusion, is that other countries have stayed in and doubled down on their general determination not to walk away, not to let the US 'cancel' the agreement," said former US climate envoy Todd Stern, speaking at a meeting organised by the World Resources Institute in Washington this week.

    Indeed, in the wake of the President's much debated decision to pull out, the agreement gained rather than lost supporters with Syria and Nicaragua signing on to the deal, leaving the US as the world's solitary wallflower on climate change.

    US notifies UN of climate deal pullout
    What is in the Paris climate agreement?
    Five effects of US pullout from Paris climate deal
    This galvanising effect of the President's dismissal of the pact can be seen clearly inside and outside the US.

    The America's Pledge movement, led by California governor Jerry Brown and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, has pushed cities, states, businesses and universities to commit to reduce their emissions.

    They point out that in 2017 non-federal climate action and sustained investment in clean energy meant that US emissions of CO2 fell to their lowest level in 25 years.

    Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
    Image caption
    2017 was the second warmest year on record
    In the year since the President spoke, the US has added 9 gigawatts of renewable electricity capacity - enough to power more than 2 million homes. More coal power was "retired" in the first month of 2018 than in the two years between 2009 and 2011.

    This is not just the actions of a handful of people - US states representing 35% of the population are expected to put a price on carbon dioxide emissions by the end of this year.

    "If developments on renewables continue as positively as in the past, and new commitments by US states, cities and businesses are implemented, the US could still meet its Paris commitment," said Prof Niklas Höhne, from the NewClimate Institute.

    Outside the US, the impact of the President's intentions on Paris has also forged a strong, positive response.

    The UK and Canada launched a global alliance of 20 countries committed to phasing out coal for the production of energy.

    The UK, Ireland, Norway, Germany, India and China and a host of other nations have also committed to phasing out petrol and diesel cars at various dates between 2024 and 2040.

    Many countries have also decided that by 2050, they will be carbon neutral.

    Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
    Image caption
    President Trump's administration has been keen to promote coal use with mixed results
    "Trump can announce what he will, but the reality on the ground, in the US and around the world, is that efforts to tackle climate change continue regardless and unabated," said Paula Caballero from WRI.

    But these positive signals are not the full story. There is significant anxiety in the UN climate process that produced the Paris deal, that the US pullout is having a corrosive effect on efforts to move forward.

    "In the absence of the US you have the phenomenon of a fair number of countries trying to pull back a little from some of the things that were agreed to in Paris," Todd Stern said.

    Many countries had "extended themselves" beyond the point of comfort, knowing that Paris was a "big moment", and that the "US was walking arm-in-arm with China," he said.

    In recent months, China appears to have decided that it is unhappy with one of the key elements of the Paris agreement, the provision that all countries, rich or poor, must undertake actions to cut emissions. They want to go back to a more divided approach, where the rich countries are the only ones compelled to take on carbon reductions.

    With the US team essentially sidelined in the UN negotiations process and with Brexit pushing the UK away from the rest of Europe, there is a feeling that China is taking advantage of these events to push ahead with a backwards-looking agenda, more in tune with the political mood in the country. Just this week an analysis from Greenpeace suggested that emissions from China were rising at their fastest pace in seven years.

    "If we don't organise the diplomacy in a way that there is somehow European countries (together) in geographic terms towards China, we are losing totally the game," said Laurence Tubiana, the former French diplomat who played a key role in the Paris negotiations.

    "And the US isn't playing a very helpful game in shaping the international system."

    One key but quiet aspect of the Trump withdrawal that is raising more and more concern is the question of finance. Around $10bn is due to be paid in to the Green Climate Fund by the end of this year, with the US having already contributed $1bn under President Obama.

    As part of the US withdrawal, President Trump has immediately stopped the payment of the extra $2bn that had been promised.

    Poorer countries especially are fuming about this imminent shortfall, and are also hugely irritated by what they see as some smugness among the better-off nations, whom they feel aren't going far enough or fast enough to cut carbon.

    While the US move has on balance seen more positives than negatives in the first 12 months since the announcement, the waters ahead are distinctly choppy. The ripples from Trump's withdrawal are only starting to be felt. The worst is still ahead.
    Five effects of US pullout from Paris climate deal
    By Matt McGrath
    Environment correspondent
    1 June 2017
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    What will the US withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement mean for the rest of the world?

    The US withdrawal will hurt the deal and the world
    There's no doubt that President Trump's withdrawal will make it more difficult for the world to reach the goals that it set for itself in the Paris agreement - keeping global temperature rises well under 2C. The US contributes about 15% of global emissions of carbon, but it is also a significant source of finance and technology for developing countries in their efforts to fight rising temperatures.

    There's also a question of moral leadership, which the US will be giving up, which may have consequences for other diplomatic efforts. Michael Brune, from US environmentalists, the Sierra Club, said the expected withdrawal was a "historic mistake which our grandchildren will look back on with stunned dismay at how a world leader could be so divorced from reality and morality".

    Will Paris pull-out hurt Trump?

    America's difficulty is China's opportunity
    The key relationship that brokered the Paris agreement was between the US and China. President Obama and President Xi Jinping were able to find enough common ground to build a so-called "coalition of high ambition" with small island states and the EU. China has rapidly re-affirmed its commitment to the Paris accord and will issue a statement with the EU tomorrow pledging greater co-operation to cut carbon.

    "No one should be left behind, but the EU and China have decided to move forward," said EU climate commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete. It's also likely that Canada and Mexico could emerge as significant players from the Americas in global efforts to stem rising temperatures.

    Image copyrightEPA
    Image caption
    Despite the announcement, US carbon emissions will continue to drop
    Global business leaders will be disappointed
    One of the strongest voices in favour of the US staying in the Paris deal has been corporate America. Leaders of companies such as Google, Apple and hundreds of other including major fossil fuel producers such as Exxon Mobil have urged the President to stick with Paris.

    The Exxon chief executive Darren Woods wrote a personal letter to Trump saying the US is "well positioned to compete" with the accord in place and staying in means "a seat at the negotiating table to ensure a level playing field".

    Coal is unlikely to make a comeback
    The shift in the US away from coal is mirrored in other developed countries. The UK will phase out coal for the generation of electricity by 2025 - the number of jobs in the US coal industry is now just a half of the number employed in solar.

    While developing countries are likely to still depend on coal for decades to come as their primary source of energy, the impact on air quality and public anger about pollution will be a limiting factor.

    The tumbling price of renewables is also encouraging emerging economies to leapfrog to greener sources. In recent auctions in India, the price of solar energy was 18% lower than the average price for electricity generated by coal-fired plants.

    Despite President Trump's withdrawal from the accord, US carbon will continue to drop. The projections are that they will fall about half as much as had been planned by President Obama. That's because US energy production is now powered more by gas than by coal.

    The fracking revolution has seen a huge jump in the production and a huge drop in the price of natural gas. Energy producers like gas because it is flexible and integrates better with renewable sources which are also growing rapidly.


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