Since the middle of the 20th century, scientists have warned that human technology and economic “progress” have been disrupting the worldwide carbon cycle, one of many fundamental processes on which life on Earth depends. Sixteen out of the first seventeen years of the 21st century have been the warmest years on record for the planet as a whole, and 2016 was the hottest ever recorded. The 2016 temperatures continue a long-term warming trend, going back to the 1880s. Eight of the world’s ten deadliest heat waves occurred between 1997 and 2016. It has therefore become increasingly apparent—except to a minority of citizens and industrialists, a handful of financially compromised and/or contrarian scientists, and some politicians—that the “greenhouse effect” has already begun.
Donald Trump’s “Screw You” to the World
Nonetheless, on June 1, Donald Trump declared that the United States was officially withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement, following through on a campaign promise and defying fellow world leaders and many others who had pleaded with him for the US to remain a party to the pact. Trump’s move has already provoked a sharp backlash from the rest of the world, and it could prove to be a major setback for international efforts to avert drastic global warming.
The world’s nations had already been struggling to reduce emissions deeply enough to prevent global average temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, the threshold deemed unacceptably risky. The Paris climate deal is meant to provide a structure to reduce the pace of global warming over time. Now, the leader of the world’s largest economy has clearly stated that he wants no part of that process.
The Paris climate deal, which 195 countries agreed to in 2015, was designed to work through voluntary action and peer pressure. While it is imperfect, the accord is historic in that it requires all states—including the less developed ones—to commit to action. It sends a message that the world community is united in recognizing the anthropogenic (human-caused) nature of global warming, the danger that it poses, and a determination to fight it. By sending a signal to financial and energy markets, it also may galvanize corporate and research efforts to shift away from a carbon-based economy.
The Paris Accord was never ratified by the US Senate. Accordingly, the Trump administration plans to invoke the accord’s formal withdrawal mechanism, a legal process that will take four years to complete and would lead to an official exit on Nov. 4, 2020, the day after the next presidential election. Trump also said he would not abide by any of the United States’ previous commitments under the Paris agreement and would rejoin only if the accord were drastically renegotiated, an unlikely prospect.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration will push to dismantle domestic climate policies, including the Clean Power Plan to curtail emissions from power plants, and various regulations on methane leaks from oil and gas operations. Those rollbacks are far from assured, and environmentalists plan to challenge them in court.
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