1. What’s the Paris Agreement?
The 2015 accord among almost 200 countries brought together the developed and developing worlds to pledge limits on the fossil-fuel pollution that causes climate change. Those pledges are voluntary and non-binding. The goal is to hold the rise in temperatures to below 2 degrees Celsius (compared with preindustrial levels), and preferably to 1.5 degree, at the end of this century, to avoid the rising seas and superstorms that climate models predict.
2. What did the U.S. pledge under the Paris agreement?
To cut its carbon emissions 26 to 28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025.
3. What is Trump’s gripe with the agreement?
He’s called the pact “a total disaster for our country” that would hurt American competitiveness by enabling “a giant transfer of American wealth to foreign nations that are responsible for most of the word’s pollution.” He says rules and directives put in place by his predecessor, Barack Obama, to meet the U.S. targets for emissions hurt the U.S. economy by killing jobs related to fossil fuels, especially coal mining. And he’s moved to dismantle Obama-era regulations meant to stifle greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, automobiles and oil wells.
4. When is the U.S. withdrawing?
Having waited the necessary three years since its joining became official, the U.S. now must wait another year for its written notification of withdrawal to take effect. As luck would have it, that date -- Nov. 4, 2020 -- is the day after the 2020 presidential election, in which Trump is seeking a second term. If Trump were to lose that election, his successor could cancel the U.S. withdrawal immediately upon taking office in January 2021. (All of the Democratic candidates seeking their party’s nomination to challenge Trump say they would do so.) There would be a 30-day waiting period for a re-entry to take effect.
5. What happens to the agreement without the U.S.?
It endures but has a steeper climb to achieve targets that scientists say would avert catastrophic climate change. In addition to reducing its own emissions, the U.S. was being counted on to contribute heavily to a Green Climate Fund that helps poorer nations invest in renewable energy. (Australia, like the U.S., has balked at sending more money to the fund.) On the other hand, there’s some evidence that Trump’s opposition has galvanized support for the accord among other countries, and since signatory nations pledge to review their targets every five years, there’s a chance they could redouble their efforts to cut emissions. Syria and Nicaragua, initial holdouts when the accord was reached, have now joined, and the last remaining major emitter, Russia, ratified the agreement in October.
6. Has the agreement helped?
Not enough so far. Human activities are estimated to have already caused about 1 degree Celsius of warming and are increasing that at a rate of about 0.2 degrees Celsius per decade. The UN World Meteorological Organization reported last year that global temperatures were on track to rise 3 to 5 degrees by the end of this century, well beyond the targeted cap of 2 degrees. Climate Action Tracker, a research project, agrees that current policies and pledges will leave the planet “well above” the Paris accord’s “long-term temperature goal.” Even with the U.S. involved, academics were concerned that the world was headed for “extensive” species extinctions, serious crop damage and irreversible increases in sea levels.
7. Is the Paris accord the only hope to stop global warming?
No. There’s also been a global grassroots movement that has taken the form of street protests, green finance, efforts to decarbonize industries such as agriculture and steel, a divestment push to pressure energy companies to adopt greener ways -- even a climate-conscious rise in veganism. In the U.S., coalitions of cities, states, businesses and universities in groups such as We Are Still In and America’s Pledge have organized to keep progress going even if the country formally leaves the pact. (America’s Pledge was co-founded by Michael R. Bloomberg, the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.) States including California, New York and Massachusetts continue to move forward with aggressive policies to cut carbon emissions, and companies including Anheuser-Busch InBev NV, Apple, Amazon.com Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google have pushed to power their facilities with wind and solar energy. Climate Action Tracker projects U.S. emissions in 2030 will be 13% below 2005 levels, even while calling the U.S. effort “critically insufficent.”
8. Does Trump believe humans cause global warming?
That’s a long story. Trump repeatedly mocked global-warming fears as a “hoax” before taking office, and as a candidate he promised to focus on “real environmental challenges, not the phony ones we’ve been looking at.” He also has ridiculed renewable power -- wind and solar and the like -- as “just an expensive way of making the tree-huggers feel good about themselves.” Trump has softened some of those views, saying in 2018 that while he doesn’t think it’s a hoax, he isn’t sure climate change is a “man-made” phenomenon.
--With assistance from Jessica Shankleman.
To contact the reporters on this story: Jennifer A. Dlouhy in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org;Emily Chasan in New York at email@example.com
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Leah Singer at firstname.lastname@example.org, Laurence Arnold, Will Wade