US Leaves Paris Agreement Amidst Presidential Election Uncertainty

Statement by Rachel Cleetus, Union of Concerned Scientists

Published Nov 4, 2020

WASHINGTON—The United States has officially left the Paris climate agreement, a process that was formally initiated by the Trump administration exactly one year ago and takes effect today. The U.S. election has yet to be called, making it impossible to know whether the United States will rejoin the United Nations agreement in 2021.

Below is a statement by Rachel Cleetus, policy director for the Climate and Energy Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. Cleetus has attended the UN’s international climate talks and partnered with the international community on climate and energy policies for more than 14 years.

“The U.S. exit from the Paris Agreement is a shameful act and is especially cruel at a time when the world is reeling from devastating disasters worsened by climate change, including most recently Super Typhoon Goni and Hurricane Eta. The decision to leave the Paris Agreement has left the United States globally isolated in its defiance of scientific realities, and will cause real harm to people, the planet and the economy.

“No matter the outcome of the U.S. presidential election, the current administration can still take action to walk us back from the brink. Failing that, if there is a change in administration, the United States will certainly rejoin the Paris Agreement in 2021 and must do so with enhanced ambition in its climate commitments.

“The United States—like many other parts of the world—has faced a relentless barrage of climate change-related disasters this year, including destructive hurricane and wildfire seasons that have devastated communities. In the first nine months of 2020 alone, we have endured sixteen extreme weather events, each costing at least $1 billion and collectively leading to nearly 200 deaths, with communities of color and low-income communities often experiencing the brunt of the devastation. Failure to take drastic action in line with the latest science will result in increasingly dire climate impacts in the years ahead.

“Although renewables make up about one-fifth of the U.S. power mix, much more needs to be done economywide if we are to do our fair share to limit warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius globally. The United States is the second largest emitter of carbon emissions from fossil fuels annually and the largest source of cumulative emissions to date. It’s well past time for our nation to pivot away from being part of the problem and towards contributing to a leading share of the solutions. Protecting future generations from runaway climate change is not only morally right but could also result in a more stable and sustainable economic future.

“Regardless of whether the United States decides to get on board or get out of the way, the nearly 200 nations of the world will continue moving full steam ahead toward realizing the goals the Paris Agreement. Leading emitters such as the European Union, China and Japan have recently announced commitments to net-zero emissions goals, signaling greater ambition ahead of the next climate talks in Glasgow in 2021. U.S. cities, states and businesses should both strengthen their climate pledges and bring more public and private entities on board. And the nation’s youth, frontline communities, environmental activists, labor groups and scientists will continue to lead the fight for climate justice. But there is no doubt that without federal leadership, our nation’s efforts to address climate change will fall short.”