The World of International Organizations Explained

Trump launches U.S. exit from Paris treaty

Anti-Trump protesters in Washington focused on his denial of climate science from his first day in office on Jan. 20, 2017 (ARÊTE/Julia DeSantis)

U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration wasted no time notifying the United Nations on Monday — the first day possible — that it will withdraw from the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change a year from now.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo submitted a formal notice to U.N. officials that starts a one-year countdown to the U.S. exit. That makes the United States the first and only nation to initiate the formal withdrawal process.

Together, the European Union and the 186 nations that have signed, ratified and joined the treaty account for about 87 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Those include five of the world’s biggest carbon polluters: China, India, Japan, Russia and the United States. Pompeo’s action came on the first day that any nation could pull out of the Paris deal.

China accounts for 29 percent of global emissions, followed by the United States with 16 percent, India with 7 percent, Russia with 5 percent and Japan with 4 percent, according to data and analysis by the U.S.-based Union of Concerned Scientists.

America’s top diplomat portrayed the Trump administration’s move as an effort to inject pragmatism into solving the global climate crisis, despite agreement among virtually all other nations that it can only be tackled through the Paris treaty.

“In international climate discussions, we will continue to offer a realistic and pragmatic model — backed by a record of real world results — showing innovation and open markets lead to greater prosperity, fewer emissions, and more secure sources of energy,” Pompeo said in a statement. “We will continue to work with our global partners to enhance resilience to the impacts of climate change and prepare for and respond to natural disasters.”

None of the almost 200 nations that signed onto the deal, which took effect on Nov. 4, 2016, were allowed to withdraw for the first three years. But the withdrawal process takes a year to complete, so the U.S. departure is now slated for Nov. 4, 2020 — one day after the next U.S. presidential election.

If Trump loses the election, his successor could announce on Jan. 20, 2021, their first day in office, that the United States will rejoin the agreement. Under the terms of the Paris deal, the U.S. readmission would become effective 30 days later.

The spokesperson’s office of U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres released a brief statement confirming the U.S. had submitted its notification that it was starting the process of leaving the treaty a day after the 2020 election.

Guterres, like his predecessor Ban Ki-moon, has made the climate crisis a top priority for the United Nations. In late September, Guterres convened a daylong U.N. Climate Action Summit on the sidelines of the 193-nation U.N. General Assembly to demand that world leaders show up with real climate action plans, instead of well-meaning speeches.

“Nature is angry. And we fool ourselves if we think we can fool nature. Because nature always strikes back. And around the world, nature is striking back with fury,” he told world leaders. “Our warming Earth is issuing a chilling cry: Stop. If we don’t urgently change our ways of life, we jeopardize life itself.”

‘Total disaster’ vs. ‘major mistake’

The 2015 treaty committed the world to “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees C. above pre-industrial levels.”

The world has already warmed by about 1 degree C. above pre-industrial levels, so the choice is really between another 1 degree C. or, preferably, a half-degree C. more warming.

Trump, hostile to international organizations and treaties, announced in June 2017 that he would pull the United States out of the Paris deal. He claimed it would put America at a disadvantage by undermining its economy. Last month, he called the agreement “a total disaster.” And last week he told a campaign rally in Pittsburgh, Pa., that he will abandon the deal.

Critics called the pullout a major mistake that would undermine U.S. leadership. “Exiting the Paris climate accord is American exceptionalism of the wrong kind,” said Richard Haass, a veteran diplomat and president of the Council on Foreign Relations, a prestigious New York-based think tank.

“It is unnecessary, as the pact allows each country to determine its own goals,” he said. “And it weakens global efforts versus climate change, whose effects Americans will be unable to avoid.”

Most Americans committed to Paris deal

Meantime, a coalition of U.S. mayors has pledged to comply with the Paris agreement no matter what. Climate Mayors counted the leaders of 407 cities in its ranks. Co-led by the mayors of Los Angeles, Houston, Boston and Knoxville, the organization said it represents 70 million Americans.

Other American coalitions have joined in the cause, such as We Are Still In — a group that includes 3,800 mayors, county executives, governors, tribal leaders, college and university leaders, businesses, faith groups, cultural institutions, healthcare organizations and investors  — and the U.S. Climate Alliance, a group of governors from 25 states.

Together they represent 65 percent of the United States’ 329 million population and 68 percent of its $21.5 trillion economy, according to the America’s Pledge Initiative, led by California Gov. Jerry Brown and billionaire philanthropist Michael Bloomberg, a U.N. special envoy for climate action.

The U.S. Climate Alliance said Trump’s decision to withdraw from the treaty is bad policy.

“We believe all leaders have a critical responsibility to address the global climate crisis. The Paris Agreement is the framework for global cooperation to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions and address climate change,” it said in a statement. “The United States led the world in forging this strong, historic agreement, and the United States should support the agreement, not abandon it.”

The governors’ alliance said the 25 states it represents include more than half of the U.S. population and an $11.7 trillion share of the American economy — larger than the economies of all other nations except for the entire United States and China.

“But in order to reduce emissions at the pace and scale science tells us is required, we need the federal government to join us in taking action. We do not stand alone: 77 percent of U.S. voters support the Paris Agreement,” the alliance said. Climate action is a driver of — not a deterrent to — innovation and economic strength.”

Climate Mayors said Trump’s repudiation of the Paris accord and his denial of global warming was not going over well with American cities.

“We will intensify efforts to meet each of our cities’ current climate goals, push for new action to meet the 1.5 degrees C. target, and work together to create a 21st century clean energy economy,” it said in a statement. “And if the President wants to break the promises made to our allies enshrined in the historic Paris Agreement, we’ll build and strengthen relationships around the world to protect the planet from devastating climate risks.”

In 2016, C40, an international organization of the world’s megacities committed to addressing climate change, issued a report that analyzed the contribution they could make to meeting the 1.5 degrees C. target. It estimated that U.S. cities alone could get the world about halfway towards the per-capita carbon emission reductions needed to reach that target.

The world of international organizations explained.

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