Today, the United States of America officially re-joined the Paris Agreement. President Donald Trump famously left the accord in July 2017. After Joe Biden won the US 2020 presidential election, with tackling climate change a big part of his presidential campaign, he vowed to re-join.
True to his word, President Biden signed the executive order to re-join the Paris Agreement on 20th January. 30 days later, today the USA is officially back. It is a big day for the United States and many would say the world. It’s important because Joe Biden’s climate plan may just give the world a fighting chance according to scientists - and here’s why…
What is the Paris Climate Agreement?
Officially called the Paris Agreement - or in full, the Paris Agreement Under the United Nations Framework Conv
ention on Climate Change - it was named back in December 2015, when the United Nations joined together in Paris, France.
It set out aims to reduce the world emission of greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. The Paris Agreement set out to improve upon and replace the Kyoto Protocol, an earlier international treaty designed to curb the release of greenhouse gases. It entered into force on November 4th 2016, and has been signed by 195 countries and ratified by 190 as of January 2021.
It's sometimes also referred to as the Paris Climate Agreement, COP21 or the international treaty.
In November 2020, after Biden's victory, Laura Tobin interviewed Leo Hickman, the editor of Carbon Brief. He explains what Biden's presidency will mean for climate action
Where does America stand in tackling climate change?
The annual emissions of the United States are 15.2% of the global share. They are the second biggest emitting country of greenhouse gases behind China - which committed in September to have net zero emissions by 2060. In 2016 President Obama was given an ‘insufficient’ rating under the Paris agreement to limiting Global temperature rise to 1.5ºC. This sank to ‘critically insufficient’ when Trump left the global treaty. Researchers at Columbia University in New York have tracked more than 160 significant rollbacks of environmental regulations under the Trump administration in the last three years. These cover everything from car fuel standards, to methane emissions, to light bulbs. Each nation that has signed up to the Paris Agreement has a commitment to reducing emissions and how and when they plan to reach net zero. These are referred to as Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDCs. The USA’s rating is likely to change when new NDCs are submitted by the Biden administration, ahead of COP26 later this year. For reference, the UK’s rating was deemed ‘insufficient’. Therefore, in December 2020, the UK announced their new 10 point plan and submitted its new NDC’s committing the UK to reduce economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions by at least 68% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels.
Is the world on track to reduce warming to well below 2C with an aim to keep it below 1.5ºC? In a word – NO! 2020 was the ‘joint warmest year on record’ at +1.1ºC. However, as Leo Hickman explains, there is some hope, especially with new Net-Zero commitments from big nations like China pledging to be Net-Zero by 2060, the UK, EU, Japan, South Korea by 2050 and now the United States of America.
Some say the Paris agreement 1.5C target is ‘within reach’
The Climate Action Tracker (CAT) has calculated that global warming by 2100 could be as low as 2.1°C as a result of all the net-zero pledges announced as of November 2020. Current policies put the warming to around +2.9ºC. You can find out each nation's pledges here.
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What has Biden done so far?
Joe Biden says that his plan for climate change would see the US energy sector go carbon-free by 2035. Meaning the country would become a net-zero emitter for all energy by 2050. Achieving net-zero means that any carbon emitted by industry, transport or other sectors are balanced or offset by removing an equivalent amount from the atmosphere, through planting forests or carbon capture.
Biden has committed to a host of executive orders and has many grand plans He wants to revolutionise transport in the US using electric vehicles and trains, including the whole government fleet of vehicles.
He also wants to build 1.5 million sustainable homes and housing units. His plan would not just benefit the US, but many say, it would help keep global temperatures down.
The new administration also announced that it will host a “climate leaders summit” of major emitting countries on Earth Day – 22 April – and will announce a new set of emissions targets on this day.
How much of the world's emissions are covered by ‘net-zero’ targets?
Carbon Brief states that more than 60% of global carbon emissions will be covered by a net-zero ambition because of Biden's climate commitments. It is this that means meeting the Paris accord target is now ‘within striking distance’ but much more needs to be done. The UK are hosting COP26 in Glasgow in November. It’s hoped there will be more NDC submissions by many nations to help limit warming to 1.5ºC (or below).
It’s thought this year could be the turning point for tackling climate change.