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4 June, 2021

The Paris climate agreement’s been in the news again – especially since one of President Biden’s first actions was to sign an executive order to rejoin it. Need a recap? We’ve got you covered.

The Paris climate agreement 101. Adopted in 2015, the agreement is a legally binding treaty that unifies many of the world’s countries in an effort to address the climate crisis. Its overarching goal is to keep the increase in global temperature below 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial levels. 189 countries have joined the Paris Agreement.

The main points, simplified. Curbing climate change requires a massive alteration of course, and co-operation. The agreement sets out a number of measures: check this out for full details, but here are the basic tenants:

  • Countries must develop and pursue measures to maintain a nationally determined contribution (NDC).
  • Every five years a “global stockade” will take place – designed to take measure of how countries are doing, as well as to ramp up ambition. This first one will be in 2023.
  • Richer countries must help poorer countries meet targets and build resilience.

The U.S. enters. Then exits. The U.S. was onboard originally, and the Obama administration released a plan in 2015 to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28% (of 2005 levels) by 2025. But in 2017, President Trump announced the U.S. would stop participating, saying it would be disadvantageous and “undermine” the U.S. economy. The Paris Agreement includes a term that a country can’t exit it for the first three years after joining, so the U.S.’s departure didn’t take effect until November 4, 2020.

Then rejoins again. Of course, this was one day after the election that ultimately put President Biden in power. One of the first things he announced as president-elect was his intention to rejoin the Paris Agreement, something he put into executive order immediately after his inauguration.

President Biden campaigned on an aggressive green platform that included, beside rejoining the Paris climate agreement:

  • A net-zero emissions economy by 2050.
  • Banning new oil and gas leasing on federal land and water.
  • Investing $400 billion over 10 years in clean energy and innovation.
  • Reducing the carbon footprint of U.S. buildings by 50% by 2035 via incentives for retrofits that increase efficiency, and incorporate electrification and on-site green power generation.
  • Holding polluters accountable.
  • Promising to support workers (and their communities) as the country pivots from fossil fuels.

On January 27, he made good on some of those promises, asking for a pause and review on oil and gas drilling on federal lands, eliminating fossil fuel subsidies and announcing his intent to electrify the government’s fleet of vehicles. Among other initiatives, President Biden also plans to host a spring meeting with other global leaders to discuss climate change action.

Both re-joining the Paris Agreement – and this progressive environmental agenda – have been applauded. As the world’s second-largest carbon emission producer, the historical top contributor to global climate change and a global powerhouse – the U.S.’s actions have the potential to make a very significant impact.

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