As the new White House Administration begins rolling up its proverbial sleeves and getting to work on fixing all that is broken in this country, the world is watching.
One area they are watching particularly closely is climate change — namely, the fact that climate change is causing damage at a record pace, and if we don’t take action, the impact on our planet will be lasting and costly. This is why it is such a big deal that President Joe Biden has re-entered the Paris Climate Accord — a groundbreaking treaty on climate change that was created during the Obama era and that President Trump abruptly withdrew from during his Presidency.
That withdrawal shook environmentalists and climate change activists to their core, which is why it’s such a relief to so many that Biden made this issue a fundamental part of his plan.
Although many people deny that climate change is real (it is), and despite the previous administration’s questionable actions (denying science and discounting climate change as a real threat), the world is getting hotter.
From shifting weather patterns to rising sea levels, catastrophic flooding, increasingly more dangerous hurricanes, droughts, and wildfires, it’s clear that the impact of climate change is real, and there’s no time to waste. We need to take action, and we need to do it now.
The Paris Climate Accord, first adopted in 2015, provided a much needed and historic turning point in the efforts to combat climate change on a global scale. It represented steps in a positive direction to prevent further damage due to climate change, and to make a monumental effort to achieve collective climate goals across the planet.
What Exactly Is the Paris Climate Accord and How Does It Work?
According to the United Nations, The Paris Agreement is a legally binding international treaty on climate change. It’s groundbreaking because, for the first time, this “binding agreement brings all nations into a common cause to undertake ambitious efforts to combat climate change and adapt to its effects.”
The agreement was first adopted on December 12th, 2015, at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s (UNFCCC) 21st Conference of Parties (COP 21).
At that time, 196 parties — nearly every nation — signed a climate-neutral landmark international accord in a collective effort to limit global warming to well below 2, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels, which means that every country committed to this accord will have to take ambitious measures to cut environmental pollution and curb greenhouse gas emissions to achieve a climate-neutral world by mid-century.
In addition, the pact “provides a pathway for developed nations to assist developing nations in their climate mitigation and adaptation efforts, and it creates a framework for the transparent monitoring, reporting, and ratcheting up of countries’ individual and collective climate goals,” according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
The Paris Climate Accord is implemented by each country committing to economic and social transformation based on science. Each country is responsible for providing their own nationally determined contributions (NDCs), which communicate how they will take steps to reduce their emissions in the short-term and how they’ll work towards long-term goals of low greenhouse gas emission development strategies (LT-LEDS).
While the accord was adopted in 2015, the agreement did not go into force until November 4, 2016, after at least 55 nations, representing at least 55 percent of global emissions, had formally joined.
The US formally joined the agreement in September 2016, after President Obama entered the country in the accord through executive authority. It was a move seen as President Barack Obama’s environmental plan’s pinnacle and a huge step in the right direction for climate change.
When announcing the move to join the Paris Climate Accord, Obama said, “One of the reasons I ran for this office was to make sure that America does its part to protect this planet for future generations.” He continued to say that this is not an effort any one country can shoulder on its own. This is why it’s so monumental that “nearly 200 nations came together as — a strong, enduring framework to set the world on a course to a low-carbon future.”
Biden’s Re-Entry into the Accord and Moving Forward
Despite the initial progress of the US joining the Paris Accord in 2015, those plans were temporarily derailed once President Trump took office and followed through on a campaign promise to withdraw the United States from the agreement, appealing to his base and claiming that climate change is a “hoax.”
He announced his intent to withdraw from the agreement back in 2017, staying in line with his “America first” messaging, but because the withdrawal process takes time, he officially retired on November 4th, 2020, just a day after the most recent presidential election.
Luckily, President Biden announced plans to immediately reverse that withdrawal once he was inaugurated, and on his first day in office, on January 20th, 2021, he did just that. He sent a letter to the United Nations, formally beginning the 30-day process to bring the United States back into the accord.
Not only did Biden follow through on his campaign promises to re-enter the accord, but he also brings with him an impressive team of climate experts to help combat this crisis. This team demonstrates the White House’s commitment to focus on global warming in ways no other administration has.
Biden has implemented policy experts across all levels and areas of government, from the State Department to the National Security Council, the Treasury Department, the Transportation Department, and Vice President Kamala Harris’s office, all of which have a dedicated climate policy staff.
In addition, President Biden has already revoked the March 2019 permit for the Keystone XL Pipeline, following through with his intentions to re-establish scientific integrity in federal decision-making, especially after four years of political leaders always discounting science and mocking scientific and climate experts.
“The United States will work with other countries and partners, both bilaterally and multilaterally, to put the world on a sustainable climate pathway,” Biden announced in a White House statement on January 27th, 2021.
The Biden administration is also committing to several vital steps to solidify its leadership position in the fight against climate change. Those steps include the following, among several other wide-ranging commitments to fighting the climate crisis.
- Host an early Leaders’ Climate Summit aimed at raising climate ambition and making a positive contribution to the COP26
- Reconvene the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate
- Created a new Presidentially appointed position, the Special Presidential Envoy for Climate
- Begin the process of developing its nationally determined contribution under the Paris Agreement
- Develop a climate finance plan
- Ensure that climate change considerations are central to United States foreign policy and national security
So, what does this mean for the country and the world moving forward?
For starters, it means that the US has leadership in place that is dedicated to creating lasting change in terms of the climate crisis, under the guidance of actual experts. It means that our government is working towards goals that might be our last, best chance to tackle climate change and put the planet back on the positive path towards survival.
It means that the Biden administration is presenting the most comprehensive climate plan to date and that while we have a lot of catching up to do as a part of the Paris Climate Accord, the US’s re-joining of the agreement has the potential to rally other world leaders and effectively cut emissions to protect the environment for generations to come.