The very exclusive club of nations rejecting the 2015 Paris climate accord is about to get even more rarefied as Nicaragua has signaled its intention to sign the deal.
That means that the only two countries in the world refusing to be part of the agreement are the United States and a country whose government it has been trying to overthrow: Syria.
Nicaragua’s vice president, Rosario Murillo, announced Monday that the country has submitted relevant documents to the United Nations and is now set to join the agreement. “It is the only instrument we have in the world that allows the unity of intentions and efforts to face up to climate change and natural disasters,” Murillo told a local Nicaraguan radio station. President Daniel Ortega first announced the plans to reverse an earlier decision not to sign the accord in September.
Nicaragua’s initial reasons not to be part of the deal were vastly different from those of Syria or the United States. Officials in Managua believed that the agreement did not go far enough in protecting the world from climate change. They argued that the deal was merely based on voluntary pledges and that there was no mechanism to punish countries that failed to meet those commitments.
“It’s a not a matter of being trouble makers, it’s a matter of the developing countries surviving,” Paul Oquist, Nicaragua’s chief climate negotiator during the Paris talks, told the website Climate Home in 2015.
As a developing country and one of the nations most affected by climate change worldwide, Nicaragua accused richer and more developed nations of not shouldering a fair share of the burden. The Central American state believes that historic emissions — which have mainly come from Europe or the United States — should be better reflected in the calculations.
Still, Nicaragua’s opposition to the deal appears to have been mostly symbolic. The country emitted only about 16,000 kilotons of CO2-equivalent greenhouse gases in 2012, the latest available year, compared to the United States’ 6.3 million.
The United States decided to leave the agreement for far different reasons earlier this year, although it will take several years until it can formally withdraw. Whereas Nicaraguan officials say they are already impacted by climate change, some U.S. officials still doubt the science behind it.
The chief of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has led recent efforts to question the existing climate change science, reflecting some skepticism within the U.S. government about the scale of the challenge. The EPA has also rejected claims that devastating hurricanes in recent weeks were worsened by climate change.
The decision to withdraw from the Paris accord came this summer as the White House was preparing to rewrite Obama-era rules that were supposed to curb greenhouse gas emissions. U.S. officials feared that being both part of the Paris climate agreement and seeking to reverse some of those curbs could have weakened the U.S. government’s position in future lawsuits.
Ultimately, the decision was up to President Trump, who had shown a similar disdain for other multilateral alliances and agreements, such as NATO and other free-trade efforts. He decided to withdraw from the accord.
Syria’s reluctance to join the Paris accord was likely due to the civil war that has torn the country apart over the last seven years. When the deal was first agreed to, the Islamic State was still making rapid gains in the country and the Syrian government in Damascus was largely isolated diplomatically, as my colleague Adam Taylor explained in May.
Syria is also not set to join the next round of U.N. talks on climate change that are scheduled for mid-November in Germany. Environmental ministers of all nations that are part of the agreement will set out their visions for international guidelines to implement the accord — without Syria and the United States.