USA re-joining Paris Accord

  • IASbaba
  • January 25, 2021
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  • GS-2: Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests 
  • GS-3: Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation

USA re-joining Paris Accord

Context: Joe Biden assumed office as President of the United States on January 20, 2021, and among the first orders he signed was one to restore America’s participation in the United Nations Paris Agreement on climate change, that premised on voluntary targets for national emissions cuts

His decision on America’s return will take effect on February 19, which would be 107 days after its withdrawal under the Donald Trump administration became formal on November 4, 2020.

US and Pollution

  • Share in Global GHG Emission: The U.S. accounts for 15% of global GHG emissions, but it is the biggest legacy contributor of atmosphere-warming gases. 
  • Sectoral Contribution to GHG Emission: Transport (28%) and power (27%) are the two biggest national sectors contributing to GHG emissions, followed by industry (22%), agriculture (10%) and Commercial and residential emissions together make up only 13%
  • Major Contributor of Methane Pollution: Significantly, 10% of U.S. emissions are methane, which has a greater warming effect than CO2, and 81% is carbon dioxide. The rest is made up of nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases.

Do You Know?

  • On the long road to Paris, the U.S., under George W. Bush, had pulled out of the previous pact, the Kyoto Protocol, in 2001.
  • Since Trump Presidency (2016 onwards), US has
    • Quit the U.N. Human Rights Council and U.N. cultural agency UNESCO
    • Pulled out of Iran nuclear deal 
    • Cut funding for the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) and U.N. agency that helps Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) 
    • Opposed a U.N. migration pact
    • Withdrew U.S. from the World Health Organization (WHO)

What changes did the Trump administration make on climate?

  • No more bound by pledges: The withdrawal from the Paris Agreement meant that the U.S. was no longer bound by its national pledge made under the pact -to achieve an economy-wide reduction of its GHG emissions by 26%-28% below the 2005 level in 2025 and to make best efforts to reduce emissions.
  • Global Funding Stopped: America also stopped its contribution to the UN’s Green Climate Fund, to which it had pledged $3 billion, after transferring an estimated $1 billion.
  • Supported Fossil fuel based industries: On the contrary, the Trump regime focused on relaxing controls on emissions from fossil fuel-based industries, diluting standards on air quality and vehicular emissions, hydrofluorocarbon leaking and venting from air-conditioning system.
  • Revoked Protection to Natural Habitats: Trump administration loosened the way the government calculated the social cost of carbon, restraining individual States such as California from setting higher standards, revoking protection for natural habitats, including the Arctic sought by the oil and gas industry, and for individual wildlife species
  • Tweaked Environmental legislations: In all, more than 100 environmental rules were tinkered with by the administration, with some rule reversals remaining in process when the presidential election took place, and others taken to court.
  • Nullified Clean Power Plan: It was a major provision from the Obama-era to cut power sector emissions by 32% over 2005 levels by 2030. This was initially replaced with the Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule, with a reduction effect of only 0.7%. (However, the ACE rule was struck down by a court, giving Mr. Biden the freedom to reformulate a strong rule)

What areas will Mr. Biden focus on to cut emissions?

  • Dedicated Team: Mr. Biden, who has formed a high-powered team including special presidential envoy for climate, John Kerry, to lead clean development, has placed climate change front and centre among his priorities.
  • Carbon Neutrality: New President Biden has promised an “enforcement mechanism to achieve net-zero emissions no later than 2050”, including a target no later than the end of his term in 2025
  • Enhanced Financing: The plan to achieve carbon neutrality is being aided by a planned federal investment that will total $1.7 trillion over ten years, besides private investments.
  • Comprehensive Plan for Climate Action: The plan revolves around 10 million well-paying clean energy jobs with a focus on solar and wind power, close linkages between university research and the private sector, active support for carbon capture, utilisation and storage, and a renaissance in green transport.
  • Multilateralism and Accountability: In his Plan for Climate Change and Environmental Justice released before the election, Mr. Biden says America will strongly support multilateralism again, but also call for accountability from other countries, including the top emitter, China, on GHG emissions

What does Mr. Biden’s policy mean for other countries? 

  • Increased participation from US in international forums and seeking accountability from others means that nations that default could face carbon adjustment fees or quotas. 
  • This year’s UN climate conference in Glasgow will see the new administration engaging UNFCCC member-nations to raise global ambition.
  • It also means that there are hopes for developing countries like India who can get aid through Green Climate Fund that will help access cleaner expensive technologies from developed nations.

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