Many foreign leaders have announced a renewed U.S. interest in climate change after four years of backtracking by former President Donald Trump. Intended as a prelude to a major UN climate conference in Scotland this November, the summit saw countries present new climate commitments as part of a push to achieve global carbon neutrality by mid-century.
It is not the first time that the United States, the second largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world, has sought to catalyze global efforts to combat climate change. “Without the United States, I think it’s hard to imagine a successful climate regime,” said Daniel Bodansky, a professor of international law and climate change expert at Arizona State University. But Biden has had to contend with an awkward background: While the United States has often played a key role in guiding international action on the issue, its accomplishments in implementing climate deals are lackluster and subject to the changing impulses of a divided electorate.
Here’s a look at America’s past involvement in major climate deals.
The Framework Convention and the Kyoto Protocol
In 1992, the United States and more than 150 other countries signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Rio de Janeiro, promising to restore emissions to 1990 levels by 2000. This target remains unmet.
Five years later, diplomats and dignitaries gathered in Kyoto, Japan to give details of what would become the Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty based on the UN framework that committed countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. .
Addressing world leaders gathered in Kyoto, then Vice President Al Gore urged them to “take responsibility” and promised that the US “remains firmly committed to a strong and binding target” for reducing emissions.
Recognizing that developed countries have borne the brunt of responsibility for global warming, the agreement has committed three dozen industrialized countries and economies in transition – plus the European Union – to legally binding commitments to reduce emissions.
These countries have decided to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions or reduce their global carbon footprint by funding green development projects elsewhere, for example. Overall, according to the United Nations, the targets led to an average reduction in emissions of 5% from 2008 to 2012 compared to 1990 levels. The agreement also established an adaptation fund for developing countries to mitigate effects of climate change.
But the final deal didn’t force developing countries to cut emissions. The United States signed the deal, but the Senate – which had to ratify it – signaled that he would die on arrival, so the Clinton administration never presented it.
During his first presidential campaign, George W. Bush told voters that the Kyoto Protocol “would negatively affect our economy”; shortly after its inauguration, he formally withdrew from the United States.
The Copenhagen Agreement
In December 2009, world leaders gathered in Copenhagen to renew efforts to tackle climate change. The Obama administration hoped the meeting would lead to an ambitious new agreement on binding emissions commitments. But the participating countries were only able to agree on a policy statement drawn up by the United States, China and several other countries that stipulated that the nations would “take action” to reach peak emissions as soon as possible. While Obama called the deal an “unprecedented turn”, it shattered the hopes of environmental advocates and many diplomats.
In the wake of the conference’s perceived shortcomings, an influential paper published jointly by the University of Oxford and the London School of Economics concluded that climate policy following the Kyoto Protocol approach “has failed to produce any emissions reductions worldwide. real”.
Documents leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden later showed that the United States spied on other countries during the Copenhagen conference, causing angry reactions from developing countries.
The Paris Agreement
Current global efforts are guided by the Paris climate agreement, which was adopted in December 2015 and went into effect in November 2016. Nearly 200 countries have signed the agreement, which aims to limit global warming to “well below. below “2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels and ideally closer to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Scientists predict that heating beyond that temperature would cause irreversible damage.
The agreement works differently than the Kyoto Protocol: it called on developing countries to make commitments together with developed countries, and with its bottom-up approach, countries set their own reduction targets. emissions and implementation plans, but are not legally bound to carry them out.
Then Secretary of State John F. Kerry helped forge the historic deal, and Obama supported it alongside Chinese President Xi Jinping during an era of warmer bilateral relations. Promising to cut emissions by 26 to 28 percent from 2005 levels, the United States formally signed the deal in 2016.
Under Trump, the United States became the only nation in the world to walk away from it. While individual US states, cities, and companies continued to strive to reduce emissions during Trump’s tenure, the federal government mostly took a back seat.
“Paris was largely negotiated to meet US specifications and we played a huge role in shaping it, so the fact that we pulled out is more problematic than that. [not ratifying] Kyoto, “Bodansky said.
The fact that this was the second time the US had turned its back on a climate deal didn’t help. “It gives rise to the feeling that every time the US administration changes, the US position changes,” Bodansky added.
But the damage Trump has inflicted on US credibility on climate issues may prove difficult to undo.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian couldn’t resist the appearance of gloating last Friday, telling reporters that the US return to the Paris Agreement “is by no means a glorious return, but rather the student playing football. truant coming back to class “.
That said: countries have no choice but to take the US at its word if major international climate efforts are to proceed, Bodansky said.