Global Warming, Paris and a Stark Trump-Biden Divide

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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. Has it helped slow global warming?

Not enough so far. Human activities are estimated to have already caused about 1 degree Celsius of warming and are increasing at a rate of about 0.2 degrees Celsius per decade. The UN World Meteorological Organization has said that global temperatures are on track to rise 3 to 5 degrees by the end of this century, well beyond the targeted cap of 2 degrees. The years 2015 to 2019 were the warmest five years on record, and 2010 to 2019 was the warmest decade on record, according to the UN agency. 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.

3. When will the U.S. be out of the agreement?

As required by the agreement’s rules, the U.S. gave one-year written notice of withdrawal last November. That notice period expires, and the U.S. withdrawal takes effect, on Nov. 4, the day after the presidential election. If Trump were to lose his bid for a second term, Biden could cancel the U.S. withdrawal immediately upon taking office in January 2021. There would be a 30-day waiting period for a re-entry to take effect.

4. Would Biden seek to rejoin the agreement?

Biden says he would apply to rejoin on his first day as president and then “lead an effort to get every major country to ramp up the ambition of their domestic climate targets.”

5. What did the U.S. pledge under the Paris agreement?

To cut its carbon emissions 26 to 28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025.

6. 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.

7. Does Trump believe humans cause global warming?

That’s a long story. Trump 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 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. More recently, on Sept. 14, in a meeting at which a California official urged him “to really recognize the changing climate and what it means to our forests,” Trump replied, “It’ll start getting cooler, you just watch.” When the official pointed out science doesn’t say that, Trump responded, “I don’t think science knows, actually.”

8. 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.

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