Burr & Forman

06.1.2017   |   Blog Articles, Climate Change, Environmental Law Matters

Withdrawal from Paris Climate Accord and the Potential Fallout

President Trump is expected to announce this afternoon his decision whether to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Accord.   (Reuters)  Several news sources yesterday indicated that President Trump has decided to withdraw.  (The Hill, Reuters).  The expected decision follows a significant public and private lobbying effort attempting to persuade the President’s thinking on the issue.  (N. Y. Times).

While much of the initial intrigue may involve speculation regarding the President’s motivation and what this may mean for the relative influence of different advisors, the broader question is what this might mean for the United States as a matter of general policy and for the world’s climate specifically.  Some have already begun to suggest possible ramifications.

From a climate standpoint, a true withdrawal has a significant potential impact because the United States accounts for approximately 20% of the world’s greenhouse gas emission.  (Washington Post).  Scientists, commenting on the possible impact, indicate that the additional carbon dioxide would, among other things, increase the speed at which ice sheets are melting thereby raising sea levels higher and more quickly.  Continued increases in global temperature  will also likely prompt weather extremes, both hot and cold.  (CBS News).  On the other hand, some scientists have suggested that the withdrawal will not affect the trend on which the U.S. has already embarked, moving from heavy dependence on coal to greater use of alternative fuels, particularly natural gas, which is cleaner burning resulting in less emissions.  If that is so, they suggest that the United States would substantially reduce its carbon emissions as a practical matter regardless of whether it implements regulatory changes or remains in the Climate Accord.  (Independent, U. K.).  However, despite this difference of opinion, it seems scientists generally agree that the withdrawal is likely to enhance the speed of warming and make existing conditions worse.  They also note that a U.S. exit from the accord may encourage other countries to do the same with a potential corresponding increase in emissions, particularly from coal for those nations which do not have abundant available resources of natural gas or other alternatives.

From a more general perspective, there is the issue of whether and to what extent a withdrawal from this agreement will affect the position and relative influence of the U.S. among the world’s nations.  There is also apparent disagreement on this issue, although there does not appear to be any emerging consensus that the United States is likely to be punished significantly for this step.  Instead, perhaps the most potentially significant impact, aside from that on the climate itself, may be if China decides to remain in any agreement, and such a decision results in an expansion of Chinese influence not only with respect to climate issues but with respect to other matters of international relationships.  (Daily Caller).  That, of course, remains to be seen.

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