Former President Trump withdrew the United States officially from the Paris Climate Agreement on November 4, 2020, having claimed in 2017 it would cost the country $3 trillion in GDP and 6.5 million jobs. On his first day in office, President Biden signed an executive order to rejoin the agreement, in line with his campaign pledge to make the nation carbon-neutral by 2050 irrespective of cost. It takes 30 days after Biden gives notice to the United Nations for the United States to officially rejoin the agreement. It is indicative of the agreement’s shortcomings that it stipulates that no nation can leave for three years after signing, and requires another year after that to actually withdraw, yet allows re-entry just 30 days after notifying the U.N.
The Paris Agreement aims to keep average global temperatures from increasing to no more than 2 degrees Celsius—and preferably less than 1.5 degrees Celsius—by 2100, compared to pre-industrial times. Global temperatures have already increased by a little more than one degree Celsius. Despite the huge costs in complying with the Paris Agreement, the agreement will only reduce temperatures by 0.17° Celsius—the same contribution to the reduction in temperature as a carbon-free United States—as some countries are allowed to continue emitting.
Even without being a party to the Paris Agreement, carbon dioxide emissions in the United States have been declining since 2007, when they reached a peak. In 2019, U.S. carbon dioxide emissions were 14 percent less than in 2007—the largest percentage decline of any industrialized country, and significant because the United States is the second largest emitter after China. The largest sectoral decline in carbon dioxide emissions was in the U.S. electric sector, where emissions have declined by 33 percent between 2007 and 2019 as natural gas and wind and solar generation have replaced coal generation. The U.S. transportation sector is now the largest carbon dioxide emitting sector having surpassed the electric generating sector in carbon dioxide emissions in 2016.
In 2015, former President Barack Obama pledged that the United States would reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 percent by 2025 from 2005 levels in the Paris Agreement. To achieve this, his Environmental Protection Agency put forth the Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the electricity sector by 32 percent by 2030, and increased the Corporate Average Fuel Economy Standards for automobiles, ramping the standard up to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.
The electric sector reduction of 32 percent in Obama’s plan was achieved in 2019 during Trump’s Presidency without needing the Clean Power Plan. The Trump administration lowered the Obama Administration Corporate Average Fuel Economy Standard to 40 miles per gallon by 2026 because the lower standard would make cars less expensive than the Obama standard and save 3,300 lives as the lower car prices will spur consumers to upgrade to new vehicles with better safety features, while still consuming less gasoline than older models.
The Paris Agreement, however, promises much more than Obama’s pledge for reductions in 2025. For example, an escalator clause requires more stringent cuts every five years, which is likely to put future administrations in the driver’s seat to heap onerous regulations upon the American people, which President Biden is now likely to do. These increasingly “ambitious” emission-reduction pledges are known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), which will require ever-more stringent regulations. They essentially put the Paris Accord in charge of U.S. energy and economic decisions.
The agreement also requires developed countries to pay billions in “climate finance”—foreign aid to subsidize “green energy” ventures in developing countries and to share any research and technology development that promotes the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Currently, the United States has fulfilled $1 billion out of a $3 billion commitment to the Green Climate Fund, which supports developing nations’ efforts to address climate change. President Trump saved the United States $2 billion by withdrawing from the Paris Agreement.
The cost of adapting to climate change has already reached $70 billion in developing countries and is expected to grow, according to a recent United Nations report. Between 2017 and 2018, $30 billion of development aid was provided to those efforts. Under Biden, the United States is expected to meet or exceed its previous commitment, assuming that Congress will also support these efforts.
But, most egregious is that the Paris climate agreement is blatantly unfair to the United States and certain other developed countries by allowing the largest and the third largest emitters of greenhouse gases to have a bye in reducing emissions. China, the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, has not pledged any reductions in greenhouse gas emissions prior to 2030, and India, the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases, is more intent on getting energy to its population—many of whom suffer from energy poverty—and to continue to grow its economy.
China knows how important energy and particularly fossil fuels are to its economy, accounting for almost 25 percent of the world’s energy consumption. China is by far the world’s largest consumer of coal and one of the world’s largest consumers of oil and natural gas. Fossil fuels accounted for 85 percent of the world’s energy supply in 2019 and China is dependent on those fuels for 86 percent of its energy supply. China is also the world’s largest importer of coal, oil, and natural gas since it does not have the resources to produce all that it needs.
China plans to build 250 gigawatts of coal-fired generating capacity to add to its current coal-fired fleet of over 1,000 gigawatts—more coal-fired capacity than the entire U.S. generating fleet. These coal plants easily operate for 40 to 60 years. China is also investing heavily in oil-refining capacity and is about to unseat the United States as the world leader in petroleum refining, a position the United States has held for over a century.
According to its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) under the Paris Agreement, China is supposed to peak its carbon dioxide emissions around 2030. China therefore has an incentive to increase its greenhouse gas emissions in the current decade to the maximum possible peak. China’s 2019 greenhouse gas emission level was 14 billion metric tons carbon-dioxide equivalent, expanding 420 million tons over 2018 or 3 percent. China accounted for close to 27 percent of the world total and, 74 percent of the 2019 increase.
Newly-inaugurated President Biden has rejoined the Paris climate agreement, from which President Trump had prudently withdrawn. The Paris Agreement is blatantly unfair to the United States as it allows the world’s largest and third-largest emitters to have a free pass in reducing emissions. It will be all pain and little gain as the expected reductions in temperature are infinitesimal.