US officially back in Paris Agreement

The climate deal aims to hold global heating at an increasingly ambitious 1.5C above pre-industrial levels by cutting global greenhouse gas emissions, and preventing catastrophic climate breakdown

Louise Boyle
Senior Climate Correspondent, New York
Saturday 20 February 2021 22:08 GMT
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Joe Biden signs executive action to rejoin Paris Climate Accord
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The United States has officially returned to the Paris Agreement, just 107 days after it left as president Joe Biden fulfils his promise to reverse the withdrawal ordered by his immediate predecessor, Donald Trump.

The Paris Agreement, signed by 190 parties, aims to hold global heating at an increasingly ambitious 1.5C above pre-industrial levels by cutting greenhouse gas emissions, and preventing catastrophic climate breakdown.

On his first day in office last month, President Biden rejoined the multilateral deal, starting a 30-day bureaucratic process. 

It was one of a sweep of executive orders to tackle the climate crisis and among many U-turns on policies set by Mr Trump. The US had officially exited the Paris Agreement the day after the presidential election in November.

Mr Biden put tackling the climate crisis at the center of his election pitch, dubbing it an “existential” threat.

“A cry for survival comes from the planet itself,” the president said in his inaugural address. “A cry that can’t be any more desperate or any more clear now.”

Experts have said that international efforts to remain even well below 2C would struggle without the US, the world’s second largest emitter after China, being on board.

Climate scientists warn there is likely less than a decade left to make the sweeping changes needed particularly in energy, transportation, manufacturing and agriculture, as the world has already warmed by around 1.2C since pre-industrial times.

Now comes the hard part: the US is soon expected to produce an updated “Nationally Determined Contribution” – each nation’s pledge on how much they will commit to reduce emissions. Former president Barack Obama’s pledge for 2025 is out of date (and Mr Trump ignored it entirely).

The new figure is expected before Mr Biden hosts a climate summit for world leaders on Earth Day, 22 April. At the event, the US leader hopes to convince other major emitters to also up the ante and begin turning the tide on the global emissions trajectory.

Mr Biden has promised the US will be at net-zero emissions no later than 2050.

US climate envoy John Kerry took part in virtual events on Friday to mark US re-entry, saying the US will try to make up for lost time due to Mr Trump's withdrawal.

“We feel an obligation to work overtime to try to make up the difference. We have a lot to do,” Mr Kerry said at the event with the UK and Italian ambassadors.

Mr Kerry did not say what the US target would be but said it would be a “very aggressive, strong NDC” that would “earn our way back” into legitimacy in the Paris process.

Laurence Tubiana, CEO of the European Climate Foundation (ECF) said: “It’s good to have the US back in the Paris Agreement, but sadly we have no time to celebrate. The climate crisis is deepening and this is the year we need all major polluters to step up and deliver stronger plans to deliver a safe, clean and prosperous future for everyone.

“The US needs to come to Cop26 with a strong commitment: the science tells us this means a target of at least 50 per cent GHG cuts on 2005 levels by 2030, ideally more.”

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