Back to the Future: US Going Green

Written by: Associate Editor, Gabriella Verdone

In one of his first acts as president, Joe Biden signed an executive order issuing the United States’ return to the Paris Climate Agreement. In 2017, former President Trump announced that the United States would be pulling out of the global coalition to combat climate change. President Trump’s decision for withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement stemmed from protecting the United States’ economic interest, as he believed the agreement unfairly burdened American companies. Trump argued that other countries who are among the world’s leaders in carbon emission, had fewer requirements under the agreement; this financially put the United States at a disadvantage.

The Paris Agreement is a legally binding international treaty created to combat climate change. It was adopted by 196 parties in 2015 and its goal was to limit global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius. Implementation of this agreement requires social and financial transformation among the agreed parties. The Paris Agreement works a five-year cycle; each year, parties of the agreement will continuously engage in ambitious climate change action. Countries who are participants in this agreement would then submit their plans for climate action, otherwise known as their national determined contributions. In these national determined contributions, each country communicates their own actions to reduce their Greenhouse Gas emissions to comply with the ultimate goal of the Paris Agreement.

The Paris Agreement also works to provide a financial framework to those countries who may need additional support. The Agreement holds that more developed countries should provide economic assistance to those countries who may be more financially vulnerable and unable to fully comply with the budgetary needs of the agreement. These funding mechanisms include grants and loans by the Global Environment Facility which help in funding climate initiatives and projects related to combating climate and environmental issues. To pay for the Paris Agreement, countries would contribute money to the funding mechanisms as an additional cost on top of spending money to combat climate change within their own borders. 

In 2018, the United States produced 5.28 billion metric tons of CO2 emissions, when excluding land, use for accuracy. The US population is 332.6 million, therefore each person in the US contributes to 15.6 CO2 emissions per metric ton. While, the United Kingdom produced 369.8 million metric tons of CO2 emissions, and has a population of 65.7 million. The CO2 emission per person in the United Kingdom is equivalent to 15.6 metric tons. Therefore, the US produces more than double CO2 emissions on a per capita basis.

President Biden is taking bold action to fulfill his campaign promise to combat climate change. Among the many executive orders already signed, one of them includes canceling Trump’s approved project for the Keystone XL. The 1,700-mile Keystone pipeline was planned to carry about 800,000 barrels of oil a day from Canada to the Gulf Coast. President Biden has also ordered a temporary prohibition on new oil and gas.

However, House Republicans argue that rejoining the Paris Climate Accords will cost American’s jobs. A group of the GOP senators plans to block President Biden’s move to reenter the Paris Agreement and cancel the Keystone Pipeline. These Senators echo former President Trump’s initial concerns about the agreement, as they believe that the agreement was poorly negotiated and “fatally flawed…[which] represents a bad deal for American families everywhere.” Other Senators are concerned that the executive order will end our need for oil from Canada, which is one of our strongest allies. Nonetheless, the executive order signed by President Biden will officially go into effect in thirty days.

Daniel Micheals, What Is the Paris Climate Agreement and Why Is Biden Rejoining Now?, The Wall Street Journal (Jan. 21, 2021) available at https://jilc.syr.edu/2020/11/15/south-china-sea-dispute/

The Paris Agreement, UNFCC (2021) available at https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-paris-agreement/the-paris-agreement

Sara Hansen, Republicans Claim Rejoining Paris Climate Accords Will Cost American Jobs, But Here’s What’s Really Happening, Forbes (Jan. 21, 2021) available at https://www.forbes.com/sites/sarahhansen/2021/01/21/republicans-claim-rejoining-paris-climate-accords-will-cost-american-jobs-but-heres-whats-really-happening/?sh=1710230df4f5

Vanessa Schipani, Trump on the Paris Agreement, FactCheck.org (May. 5, 2017) available at https://www.factcheck.org/2017/05/trump-paris-agreement/

Rebecca Beitsch and Rachel Frazin, Group of GOP Senators seeks to block Biden moves on Paris, Keystone, The Hill(Jan. 21, 2021) available at https://thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/535263-some-in-senate-gop-seek-to-block-biden-moves-on-paris-keystone

Doyle Rice, Biden is taking bold action on climate change and the environment: Here’s what we know about the Paris Agreement and the Keystone XL, AZCentral (Jan. 24, 2021) available at https://www.azcentral.com/story/news/nation/2021/01/21/biden-environment-orders-target-paris-agreement-keystone-pipeline/6657211002/

Fast Facts, EPA (2018) available at https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2020-04/documents/fastfacts-1990-2018.pdf

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