Updated: Jan 25, 2021
On his first day in office, President Joe Biden signed seventeen executive orders, one of which was restoring the United States to the Paris Climate Agreement, which will take effect in 76 days. But that still does not mean that the United States is on the same foot as the rest of the world. Kids Fight Climate Change breaks down what it really means.
The Paris Climate Agreement was founded on the idea that every country should have to invest in fighting climate change, and countries should hold each other accountable. More details about the history and aims of the agreement can be found here. Though former President Trump withdrew from the Agreement, Biden is giving us a chance to restore our progress toward saving our planet.
The United States makes up only 4% of the world's population, yet has produced over a third of all carbon dioxide emissions. Hence, the US's cooperation is essential to mitigate climate change. However, the United States has had a history of wavering support for climate treaties, such as the Kyoto Protocol, which President Clinton joined in 1997 but President George W. Bush withdrew from in 2001. As Teresa Ribera, Spain’s environment minister, says:
“Credibility is something very difficult to earn and very easy to lose. The recovery of credibility could take some time."
This sentiment is echoed by other climate experts, such as Todd Stern, climate envoy under President Obama. In addition to rejoining the Agreement itself, Stern explains that the United States will have to work extensively to restore international diplomatic relations on both a climate and overall basis in order to restore its credibility, while at the same time mitigating climate change domestically. Biden has started this process, particularly with John Kerry as the climate envoy.
While the United States has lacked significant climate efforts, pledges by the European Union, Japan, China, and South Korea have put nearly half of the world's carbon dioxide emissions on a net-zero path. A United States climate effort, such as President Biden's pledge to have net-zero emissions by 2050 and eliminating fossil fuels from electricity generation by 2035, could result in the world meeting the targets of the Paris Climate Agreement. Furthermore, President Biden is expected to set new targets for the Paris Climate Agreements at a November 2021 summit in Glasgow.
President Biden's signing of the Paris Climate Agreement is only the first step of many in reaffirming and expanding on our international commitments to stopping climate change; it must be followed by decisive action both domestically and abroad. But it's still just a step. Biden has only been in office for one and a half days, so he cannot be expected to make this action today or tomorrow, but for the sake of our future, it needs to come soon.
Ellis, Jonathan, and Douglas Alteen. “The Paris Climate Agreement: What You Need to Know.” The New York Times. The New York Times, January 21, 2021. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/21/climate/biden-paris-climate-agreement.html.
Friedman, Lisa, and Somini Sengupta. “The U.S. Left the Paris Climate Pact. Allies and Rivals Are Pressing Ahead.” The New York Times. The New York Times, January 20, 2021. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/04/climate/paris-agreement-us-election.html.