In December of 2015, President Barack Obama announced the US would sign the historic Paris Climate Agreement. His stated reason was to create “a world that is safer and more secure, more prosperous, and more free.”
However, this decision wasn’t without controversy. Politicians, scientists, and the general public had been vociferously debating its merits and drawbacks ever since the possibility of the US endorsing it was announced.
These voices intensified to a deafening roar once President Donald J. Trump declared his intention to revoke the USA’s participation in the agreement. Trump made good on this promise on November 4, 2020.
Trump justified his decision based on statistics pulled from research that the National Economic Research Associates (NERA) undertook. However, NERA released a statement days after the president issued his revocation stating that he took much of what the organization said out of context.
Even though the US eventually rejoined the Paris Agreement, the debate over whether it will have an overall net positive effect on the country and the world continues to rage.
What is the Paris climate agreement?
The Paris Climate Agreement is a treaty with the ambitious goal of reducing greenhouse gases so that temperatures don’t rise more than 2 °C (3.6 °F) compared to pre-industrial levels.
To meet the agreement’s objectives, the world needs to reduce greenhouse emissions by 50% by 2030. Most climate scientists believe this will significantly reduce the harmful effects of climate change.
Since 2015, almost every country has endorsed the Paris Agreement, which replaced the Kyoto Protocol – an international agreement that called upon governments to protect the future of the planet by significantly reducing harmful greenhouse emissions.
The US withdrew from this protocol in 2001 on the basis that it considered the protocol to be inherently unfair.
The Paris Agreement fixed the perceived inequities of the Kyoto Protocol and eventually replaced it. 196 countries negotiated the accord at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference near Paris, France.
On November 4, 2016, the agreement came into effect. After Trump withdrew from the agreement, countless cities, states, and corporations across the country declared their intention to decrease greenhouse gas emissions no matter what the official US policy was.
The US later rejoined the treaty after Joe Biden became president.
How national sovereignty is preserved
186 nations formulated carbon reduction targets known as “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions” (INDCs) before the Paris conference convened. The milestones contained in the plans outlined each nation’s commitments to limiting harmful emissions.
Once a country formally joins the accord, INDs become NDCs (nationally determined contributions). By having each country determine the best strategy for them independently, the treaty preserves national sovereignty.
Addressing systemic inequities
The signatories of the Paris Climate Agreement acknowledge there are inequities in climate change mitigation. For example, the US is better able to financially and technologically devote resources to solving the problem than developing nations can.
This means that the US (and other developed nations) are expected to provide monetary and technical assistance to countries that don’t have similar levels of ability. The US has pledged $3 billion to financially support developing countries to transition to more sustainable ways of producing energy.
The pros and cons of the Paris climate agreement
Con: The Paris agreement is “unfair” to the US
One of Trump’s reasons for withdrawing from the treaty was that the US would have to shoulder more of the agreement’s burden than most other nations.
No nation has spewed more greenhouse emissions into the planet’s skies than the US. This is a compelling enough reason to ask the US to do more to combat climate change than other countries.
Because the USA discharges greenhouse gases at a much higher rate than other developed nations like China and India, it can be argued that it’s reasonable to expect the US to do its part to help eliminate this pervasive problem.
Con: The Paris agreement will take away American jobs
Trump said that the agreement would drastically curtail job growth in the manufacturing and fossil fuel industries.
It’s true that asking the US to curb some of the massive amounts of greenhouse gases it spews into the atmosphere could eliminate some jobs. However, the good news is that positions in the coal and gas industry will be replaced by entirely new ways of making a living as the US pivots to renewable energy.
For example, jobs in the solar sector have increased by more than ten times in the last ten years. By 2030, analysts believe that the global market for renewable energy will reach $6 trillion.
Con: The Paris agreement doesn’t go far enough
While some see the Paris Agreement as unrealistically ambitious, others say it won’t be enough to negate the impacts of global warming.
Many environmentalists assert that the Paris Climate Accord was never intended to be a comprehensive solution to the problem. Instead, they say it only halts the most catastrophic repercussions of runaway global warming.
Thus far, most nations have only committed to keeping the atmospheric temperature below an increase of 2.7 to 3° Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels. Some say this won’t be nearly enough to prevent a climate cataclysm.
Pro: The Paris agreement has almost universal global support
194 countries and the European Union have signed the accord, indicative of the agreement’s massive worldwide support. There’s a growing belief that if we as a species don’t take massive climate change action soon, we could find ourselves extinct.
The Paris agreement enjoys far more international support than the Kyoto Protocol. Surprisingly, it even has robust backing from fossil fuel companies such as Shell, ExxonMobil, and Chevron.
Supportive voices overwhelmingly outweigh the relatively minuscule number of naysayers. This latter contingent is primarily composed of polluter-funded policy institutes that profit handsomely from the wholesale destruction of the planet.
The CEOs of some of the largest conglomerates in North America wrote an open letter to Trump (while he was president) backing the Paris Agreement. They included the chief executives of Campbell Soup, 3M, Corning, Dow, and Tesla.
One of the many supportive voices that railed against withdrawing from the treaty was the SEIU (Service Employees International Union). This organization, primarily composed of healthcare workers, knows the catastrophic impact of environmental harm on the well-being of humans better than most. They’re keenly aware that the fight for climate justice is inseparable from the battle for economic justice.
Pro: The Paris agreement will help control global warming
Although it might not seem significant, the earth’s temperature rising by just two degrees will have a devastating impact on the planet.
For example, we will see drastically diminishing global water supplies and reduced crop yields. Thawing polar ice caps will cause sea levels to rise precipitously, flooding communities on the coast and wiping out millions of homes.
Hurricanes are already becoming more powerful and destructive, with no end in sight if global warming isn’t curtailed. Changes in temperature and precipitation patterns have resulted in increasing numbers of extreme weather events. They increase the duration, frequency, and intensity of heatwaves, floods, droughts, and tornadoes.
More species will become extinct, decreasing the planet’s stunning biodiversity to a fraction of what it was. If enough nations commit to taking drastic climate change action, these nightmare scenarios might be mitigated or eliminated.
Pro: The Paris agreement has benefits beyond reducing climate change
Because the agreement has the potential to significantly boost air quality, there are substantial health benefits to putting it into practice.
Air pollution kills 7 million individuals annually, many of whom would have lived longer lives had more been done to curb global warming.
It’s indisputable that climate change negatively impacts the health of human beings. This has led to a growing recognition that if the medical community doesn’t step up to the plate and call for drastic climate change action, they’re remiss in their duties.
Most experts say that the costs of boosting air and water quality will be more than offset by the savings in healthcare expenses.
Developing nations, which historically have discharged much less heat-trapping pollution into the skies than more advanced countries, have unfortunately borne the brunt of the adverse health effects of the climate crisis.
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