The US has officially rejoined the Paris Agreement, with President Biden bringing America back into the collective of countries and states attempting to curtail rising global temperatures and the impact of climate change. The US initially joined the Agreement in 2016, but withdrew under the previous Administration.
The Trump Administration had notified the United Nations of its intent to leave the Paris Agreement as early as August 2017. However, under the rules of the climate commitment, members can only give notice at least three years after entering in the first place. As of November 2019, then, the formal withdrawal notice was submitted and – after one year – the US pulled out in November 2020.
The move was widely criticized by scientists, climate activists, and business leaders, though many US companies opted to remain individually committed to the requirements of the Paris Agreement.
What is the Paris Agreement?
The Paris Agreement, or “l’accord de Paris” in French, is a commitment on climate change mitigation, adaption, and finance. Developed in late 2015, and then signed in April 2016, it’s part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
It has temperature control as its primary goal. On the one hand, it’s a pledge to try to keep the increase in global average temperature to underneath 2 degrees Centigrade or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial levels. On the other, it also pursues efforts to limit the increase of global average temperature to 1.5 degrees Centigrade or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit. At the same time, it seeks to level the playing field for dealing with climate change and its adverse impacts.
Individual members opted to sign up to the agreement, with all but a handful opting not to. Each is required to set its own emissions target, though there is no punitive mechanism or collective targets imposed. The only main rule is that the new targets should be more stringent than the old targets.
With the US back in, what happens next?
President Biden signed his intent to bring the US back into the Paris Agreement on his first day in office, with an executive order. That’s now been enacted, with the US Department of State confirming today that America is now officially a Party of the Agreement again.
“The Paris Agreement is an unprecedented framework for global action,” Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State, said today in a statement. “We know because we helped design it and make it a reality. Its purpose is both simple and expansive: to help us all avoid catastrophic planetary warming and to build resilience around the world to the impacts from climate change we already see.”
According to Secretary Blinken, “addressing the real threats from climate change and listening to our scientists is at the center of our domestic and foreign policy priorities.” That means it will be an instrumental part of any discussions around matters of national security, migration, international health, economic diplomacy, and trade talks.
The first significant example of that is likely to be on April 22, where President Biden will attend the Leaders’ Climate Summit. Beyond that, there’s the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26, which will be held in November.
The move comes as parts of the US, most notably Texas, experience unprecedented weather conditions, displacing families and already leading to some deaths. While green power – such as solar and wind farms – were initially blamed for outages in Texas that continue to affect the state, it was revealed that insufficient preparation among more traditional fossil fuel-based power stations were actually to blame for the most significant parts of the electrical grid failure.