Published On: Thu, Jun 15th, 2017

Impact of U.S. withdrawal from Paris accord

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U.S. President Donald Trump announced his decision to withdraw his country from the Paris Agreement on June 1. As nations continue to craft rules for implementing the agreement, what impact will this have on attempts to curb global warming? What should member countries do? We asked two experts about this issue. (From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 3, 2017)

 

Playing ‘pass the burden’ game will only damage economy

Seita Emori / Head of Climate Risk Assessment Section at the National Institute for Environmental Studies

Whereas the Kyoto Protocol — in which only developed countries were obliged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions — was simply a game in which the players tried to pass off the burden of emissions reduction, this is no longer the case. Member countries of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change agreed that they are all aiming for effectively zero carbon dioxide emissions under the Paris Agreement. In the course of moving toward that goal, the game is now changing to one of seizing opportunities, where each nation’s objective is to take the initiative and gain acceptance for its own cutting-edge technologies.

The business world is already moving in this direction. Innovations in the field of renewable energy generation and other advances are generating profit and driving employment. Even from a solely economic perspective, it is doubtful whether withdrawal from the Paris Agreement can be considered a rational decision. The Trump administration seems to be following the rules of the old “pass the burden” game.

Prior to the Industrial Revolution, average global CO2 concentrations were about 280 parts per million. Current levels exceed 400 ppm. Meanwhile, average global temperatures have increased by 1 C, while sea levels have risen by about 20 centimeters, on average.

Last year, the extent of Antarctic and Arctic sea ice began to decline significantly beyond the normal range of annual fluctuations. The decline was so great that the scientist who first saw the data believed it to be an error.

Up until now, the United States has been a world leader in climate change research. It contributes substantially to research infrastructure, including earth-observing satellites and research databases that are used around the world.

If the research budget is reduced and the United States is unable to launch new satellites, observations will be interrupted and the data will no longer arrive continuously. Climate change simulation databases that are accessible to researchers all over the world have also been created mainly through U.S. efforts.

Despite leaving the Kyoto Protocol, the administration of then U.S. President George W. Bush advocated for the continued advancement of scientific research to resolve what it considered the many uncertainties regarding climate change. This is not true of the Trump administration. It has, instead, taken the stance of disregarding the science and reducing the research budget, a stance that may cause serious damage to climate change research.

The Paris Agreement set a goal of limiting the increase in average global temperatures to less than 2 C above pre-industrial levels. Science is an important reference when society as a whole makes such decisions. In order for society to make better judgments, researchers must continue their efforts to deepen the public’s understanding of these issues.

(This interview was conducted by Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer Hiroyuki Oyama.)

Emori completed his doctorate course at the University of Tokyo Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. He has been working at the National Institute for Environmental Studies since 1997. He is one of the contributors to the Fifth Assessment Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. He is 47.

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