At the time of writing this article, Joe Biden is projected to be the 46th President of the United States of America. On January 20, 2021 he will take the oath of office and begin his presidency. How will a Biden-Harris administration govern? Will this be a return to Obama era pen and phone legislation through Executive Order? Will Biden be the bulwark against the more radical leanings of his party that many moderates desire? Will a Republican Senate majority be a check on the aspirations of this administration? Only time will answer these questions. However, one glimpse into a future Biden presidency has been revealed. President-elect Joe Biden has announced that on January 20th, Inauguration Day, his first order of business will be an Executive Order to return the United States to the Paris Climate Agreement (PCA).
The What and Why of the Paris Climate Agreement?
In 2015, within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), 196 state representatives came together in Paris, France to negotiate and draft an agreement to mitigate worldwide Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions. In 2016, 196 UNFCCC members signed the agreement with 189 becoming party to the agreement by 2020. Iran and Turkey are two of the seven significant emitters that are not party to the agreement. The goal of the PCA is to keep long-term global temperatures below 2°C (3.6°F), and limit increases to 1.5°C. This goal to limit temperature increases by 1.5°C may substantially limit the impacts of Climate Change.
Why did we leave?
Withdrawal from the PCA was one of President Donald Trump’s central campaign promises in 2016. Unlike the 1992 Kyoto Protocol, the PCA does not include penalties for non-compliance. Each country must create its own plans and regularly report on its mitigation efforts. Without enforcement, which most conservatives would balk at anyway, the PCA would slow the US economy while allowing China, the world’s largest polluter of GHG emissions, to pay lip-service to Climate Change initiatives while doing virtually nothing about their own emissions. On August 4, 2017, the Trump Administration delivered a withdrawal notice to the United Nations and on November 4,2020 the United States officially withdrew from the agreement.
Why are we returning?
Rejoining the PCA has been one of President-elect Joe Bidens central campaign promises in 2020. Many on the political left assert that the PCA does not go far enough to combat Climate Change; however, the optics of being party to the agreement conveys leadership and unity with other nations. Additionally, Climate Change has been a central campaign issue for Democrats for many years with increased demands for bold action such as the “Green New Deal”. Returning to the PCA may be an olive branch extended from the moderates in the Democratic party to the further left leaning members. Will it be enough?
What does the Future hold?
So, what does all this mean for the climate and the average person? Honestly, not too much. Again, we return to the “problem” of enforcement for non-compliance. Without an enforcement mechanism, the PCA is just an “on my Honor” agreement. A study from Nature in 2017 indicated that none of the industrialized nations in the PCA implemented their strategies for mitigating GHG emissions. Worse than that, some projections still show an increase in temperatures above 2°C with those strategies implemented. Cities and States can continue to increase limits on GHG emissions and advocate for more sustainable and cleaner energy sources. The market is organically moving towards cleaner energy sources like natural gas and renewables with innovation in new technology necessary to mitigate and adapt to the effects of Climate Change. Additionally, many consumers have been choosing more sustainable and “Green” products like higher efficiency vehicles, appliances, and electric cars. So, like Humphrey Bogart “we’ll always have Paris”. But will it make a difference? Only time will tell, mes amis!