climate change

US 2020 election: The US formally exits the Paris Agreement, but is set to re-enter in January as Joe Biden to be sworn in as the next US president

Barack Obama adresses the COP21 climate summit in 2015 which lead to the signing of the Paris Agreement. Photo credit: AP.

By Anders Lorenzen

As a Joe Biden presidency is now a reality, which will be a huge relief for climate advocates across the planet, a sad consequence of the Donald Trump presidency became a reality the day after the US election when the US formally exited the Paris Agreement. UN rules mean that it takes three years to leave such an agreement, and the US initiated this process three years ago in 2017. 

As Biden takes the presidency the legality of the vote continues to be challenged by the Trump campaign in a series of lawsuits. This is although no evidence has yet been provided of wrong-doing.  The Trump administration and supporters will continue to sow fear, division and falsehoods adding to the already heated situation, and including false and misleading information about issues such as why he exited the Paris Agreement. 

Biden can still re-enter the US

So far it is unclear how much of his climate plan the Biden administration can move forward as the predictions that the Democrats would win back the Senate might not happen. This will depend on two tight Georgia runoff races to be held in January. Even so, on day one in office Biden can enter the US into the Paris Agreement.

The Paris Agreement is the first climate agreement covering nearly every single country and their emissions. The withdrawal by the US was a worry amongst many climate advocates including Christiana Figueres, the former head of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), who was instrumental in the deal becoming a reality. John Kerry, Barack Obama’s Secretary of State, who was also a key force alongside Al Gore, Bill Clinton`s vice president, will be relieved that the US now looks set to re-enter.

Could galvanise action

And just the simple act of the US re-entering could galvanise global action on climate change, even in Russia, the world’s fourth-biggest CO2 emitter. President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree ordering the Russian government to work towards meeting the 2015 Paris Agreement to fight climate change. And a group of influential investors representing $23 trillion of investors have urged the US to quickly re-join the Paris Agreement.

The process of re-entering the US could be fairly swift and it is anticipated they could be back in within a month once the request is made.

The Paris Agreement sets out to keep global temperatures “well below” 2C above pre-industrial times and urges participants to make every effort to ensure that temperature increases do not exceed 1.5C. How much each country should reduce emissions is set out as voluntary; intended nationally determined contribution (INDC) targets.  In the delayed COP26 conference to be held in Glasgow, UK, next year countries are encouraged to increase their INDCs in order to achieve the goals set out in the Paris Agreement.

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