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U.S. Officially Withdraws from Paris Agreement

Article by Julia Bennett,

The Paris Agreement was launched on Earth Day of 2016. The Agreement became effective six months later, on November 4, 2016, following ratification by 55 states representing 55% of global emissions. Its mission is to strengthen the international community’s response to climate change. Its cornerstone feature is a commitment to limit global temperature rise during this century to less than 2 degrees celsius above pre-industrial levels. The success of the Agreement is predicated on “best effort” cooperation by all signatories towards achieving their individually appointed nationally determined emissions contributions. Secretary John Kerry signed the Agreement on behalf of the US in 2016. However, just a few months later in June of 2017, President Donald Trump announced that the US would withdraw from the Agreement.

It has taken nearly 2.5 years for the US to formally pull out of the Paris Agreement. UN regulations dictated that November 4, 2019 was the earliest date at which a state could initiate the withdrawal process. Last year, Secretary Mike Pompeo filed the necessary paperwork which was automatically finalized after a one-year waiting period. As a result, just one day after the results of the general election were announced, the U.S. has yet again balked at its international environmental obligations. US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement is a stark reminder of the nation’s refusal to ratify the Kyoto Protocols, the last attempt by the international community to establish global climate goals and reduce greenhouse emissions.

While the U.S. has now formally withdrawn from the Agreement, the withdrawal does not preclude them from rejoining. In fact, President-elect Joe Biden has stated that he will re-enter the Agreement. On November 4, President-elect Biden tweeted that the U.S. would rejoin the Agreement in 77 days, on his first day in office. However, if the U.S. rejoins, the country will face penalties. For example, the UK, EU, and UN are planning a fifth anniversary celebration for December 12, in which the US would be unable to participate. More concerning, however, is the general censure from the international community that this move has garnered.

America’s withdrawal has larger international implications than simply contributing to global greenhouse emissions (15% of which the U.S. is responsible for). America’s international standing has taken a hit. Many states, especially those in the EU, view the nation’s leaving the Agreement as turning back on their word. Moreover, while US withdrawal is not likely to inspire other states to leave just yet, key countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Russia have hinted at a willingness to side with the U.S. on global warming and push back against international emissions standards. There is a sense that they are sitting on the fence, to see how leaving plays out for the U.S.

The U.S. is the world’s largest and most powerful economy. Its withdrawal from the Paris Agreement has signalled to other states that combating climate change is not a priority and does not pay.


Julia Bennett (J.D. Candidate, Class of 2023) is a Contributor to Travaux. Her interests include human rights law and public policy. Julia graduated from the University of St Andrews in the U.K. with a degree in International Relations and Modern History. Julia is currently working with Berkeley's chapter of the International Refugee Assistance Project.



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