The Politics of Poverty

Ideas and analysis from Oxfam America's policy experts

Paris Agreement: We’re still in the fight

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Oxfam stunt at the G20 meeting in Hamburg, Germany. (Photo: Mike Auerbach / Oxfam)

As the Trump administration files a Paris Agreement withdrawal letter to the UNFCCC, what does this mean for the future of the climate fight?

This piece was co-authored by Becky Davis, Policy and Campaigns Press Officer at Oxfam America.

Last week, President Trump reiterated his promise to withdraw the US from the landmark Paris Climate Agreement by filing a “notice of intent” with the UNFCCC. After a reality show-style build up to a press conference in June, where he first announced his decision to pull the United States out of the Agreement, the notice brought much less fanfare when filed late on a sleepy Friday afternoon in August.

But this bureaucratic move – though it has no legal meaning – should not slip under the radar unnoticed.  The move demonstrates that despite public backlash the administration has every intention to walk away from US climate commitments. And while President Trump continues to wave the potential for “re-engagement” as a carrot for others to take a naïve bite, it’s getting harder to envision a global community that would take this presidency seriously on climate.

Climate change is already threatening the lives of millions of poor people around the world who are most vulnerable to the dangerous impacts of climate change. Yet, this President shows no concern for their well-being. His decision to pull out of the Paris Agreement demonstrates an unconscionable abstention of moral leadership, and will have a huge impact on the future of our planet and the lives of generations to come.

For those of you who have been only loosely following this climate soap opera unfold, let’s go back to the basics. What does this decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement really mean and what are the implications of the move?

The US cannot immediately withdraw from the Paris Agreement. This “notice of intent” is symbolic, but it does mark the first action since the President’s speech that marches the US toward withdrawal. In reality, the earliest President Trump can submit legal written notice of the US’s withdrawal is November 2019, and formal withdrawal wouldn’t take effect until November 4, 2020 – the day after the next US presidential election.

Renegotiation of the Paris Agreement is a non-starter.  Even as he files a “notice of intent,” President Trump continues to say there is potential to negotiate a better deal for the US and that he is open to “re-engage” if certain terms are met. But this statement shows his ignorance about the deal itself.

First, national commitments to the Paris Agreement are completely voluntary and are made at the discretion of each member country. As a party to the treaty, the US is free to put forward its own “Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC),” a domestic commitment to reduce emissions in the short to medium-term. There are no other terms to negotiate at the global level, and so if he tried, President Trump would more or less be negotiating with himself. The Obama administration offered an NDC of reducing US greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28 percent by the year 2025 (from a 2005 baseline). Instead of withdrawing or “renegotiating”, President Trump could stay in and simply put forth a less ambitious goal.

Second, the rest of the world has moved past agreement ratification into a new phase focused on hammering out the rules for compliance – and there is no interest from other countries to go backwards. Immediately following President Trump’s announcement, countries like Germany, France, and Italy publicly told President Trump that renegotiating is not a reality.

So, what’s next for the US?

The US has gone rogue on climate. As we saw at the G7 and G20 summits, the US stance on climate change is an anomaly on this issue, while the rest of the world unapologetically and decisively moves forward. Both summits issued robust affirmations of the Paris agreement in their respective communiques, effectively statements from the G6 and G19, and climate remained a top ranked issue during both summits.

President Trump is further isolated from the majority of Americans on this issue, and there is hope with sub-national leadership. While the Trump Administration doesn’t support climate action, the rest of the country does. Hundreds of CEOS, mayors, governors and other state officials have voiced their support for staying committed to the Paris Agreement through the We Are Still In coalition.  And poll after poll shows that the majority of Americans support taking climate action.

Oxfam is part of a coalition that launched a petition called “I’m Still In”, which calls on citizens to step up and say they will do their part in reducing emissions, supporting subnational action, protecting federal action, and calling on Congress to pass aggressive legislation to reduce emissions and to appropriate funds for climate resilience and mitigation globally.

Here are a few ways you can take a stand:

  1. Sign the “I’m Still In” petition
  2. Reduce your carbon emissions through everyday actions such as taking public transportation or carpooling, eating less meat, limiting food waste, and switching home electricity to renewable sources.
  3. Support US states, cities, businesses, investors, universities and others taking strong stances on climate action, and call on others to join them.
  4. Continue to urge President Trump to abandon his intent to withdraw from the Paris Agreement and protect federal safeguards for our health and environment from regulatory rollbacks and budget cuts.
  5. Call on Members of Congress to oppose any efforts to weaken federal agencies and regulations that protect our environment, health, and well-being.

While President Trump is trying to walk us back, we can rise up, fight back, and tackle climate change together.

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