Reports that the United States intends to withdraw from the international climate agreement signed in Paris in 2015 comes just days after the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development published a comprehensive study on the link between climate change and the economy.
Its main conclusion is that the world’s developed countries can continue to maintain economic growth and also meet the targets on greenhouse gas emissions laid down in the accord. It will require that they wisely invest in more efficient energy production, transportation and other infrastructure, but the gains for economies and the countries’ populations are unquestionable.
The expected withdrawal of the United States will make it much harder to achieve the pact’s economic and social targets – not only because the United States is the second-largest producer of greenhouse gases, but also because an American pullout could affect the delicate and complex dynamic around which the deal was built. But most of the world’s countries have already ratified the agreement, and an American withdrawal would not affect its terms or lead to its collapse.
The Paris accord is built around countries’ voluntary commitments and there are no sanctions forcing member states to abide by the targets. The commitment to the deal by so many countries was largely the product of an agreement between then-President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping over the need to deal with the climate crisis. These two economic giants showed the way forward, and if they now go their separate ways it could lead other countries to favor their own short-term economic interests and the use of cheaper, more polluting fuels. It would also make it harder to convince policy makers to support measures promoting long-term policies to prevent major damage from climate change.
Not all experts are convinced the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris deal would necessarily be bad for the pact’s implementation. There are those who claim the United States under President Donald Trump is undermining the accord anyway, by encouraging the use of coal and scrapping energy-saving programs, so it would be better if the Americans withdraw, their argument goes.
Such a withdrawal also bothers major U.S. energy firms – but not because of the Paris accord’s commitment to deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. For example, ExxonMobil is convinced the United States should meet the accord’s targets through the use of natural gas it would be only too happy to sell it.
The European Union, India and China are the prominent players who will largely determine the fate of the climate accord. China has taken a strategic decision to shift to an economy based on renewable energy sources, but it’s still unclear what the long-term consequences of this will be. In India, the situation is even less clear, and the use of polluting fuels there is seen as essential to Indian economic growth.
The EU will continue to be the major player in maintaining the pact, and it has already taken wide-ranging efforts to reduce greenhouse gases. The Europeans have made this their traditional role, which they played until 2015 without the United States and China – which until the Paris accord was signed had no commitment to reducing greenhouse gases.