World Environment Day and the U.S. Decision to Leave the Paris Agreement

World Environment Day was developed by the United Nations in 1974 to encourage worldwide awareness and call for action for the protection of the environment. Every year, the day has a theme and a host country  where the official celebrations take place. This year, our neighbor to the north, Canada, is the host country.

This year, World Environment Day falls only a few days after our nation’s President, Donald Trump, announced that the United States would be leaving the Paris Climate Agreement. The Paris Agreement is considered an incredible feat for the global community, with over 197 countries signing the agreement.

“The Paris Agreement’s central aim is to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius,” as stated by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Each signing country is asked to set their own national goals and report regularly on their implementation efforts and emissions. A global temperature rise of 2 degree Celsius could lead to a rise in oceans causing a loss of coastal land, extinction of species, and increased extreme weather like increases in devastating storms and droughts. For example, the current droughts in South Sudan and Somalia are causing famine throughout the region and are the worst droughts in the region’s recent history.

The United States is now one of only three non-signatories of the agreement; the other two being Nicaragua and Syria. The President’s reasoning for leaving the agreement, in sum, is because he believes that the agreement is unfair to America, claiming that the agreement allows for other large countries like China and India to produce more emissions than the U.S. He also stated that it is unfair for the United States to be paying for climate mitigation, which was designed to assist vulnerable countries to invest in technologies that will make the environment cleaner.

In reality, the agreement was signed to allow countries to make their own goals, and China and India decided to continue to use coal-powered plants because they believe they have a different responsibility in their reduction of emissions compared to historical Western emitters like the United States who has been using coal power since the beginning of the 20th century. China and India still made environmental commitments, and agreed to review and alter their goals every five years. The climate mitigation tactic was agreed on by wealthy nations because the majority of these nations developed their wealth from having an industrial boom in the 20th century and thus produced many of the emissions that have led to this climate crisis.

Although the President has used misguided excuses to leave the deal, some American cities, companies, and universities have committed to following the agreement. 30 mayors, 3 governors, and 80 university presidents have committed to following the climate accords, including Pittsburgh, PA, a city President Trump claimed to represent in his announcement to leave the agreement.

If the United States does not meet emission standards defined in the Paris Climate Agreement, it is predicted that an added 0.3 degrees Celsius—as reported by Climate Interactive—will be added to global warming by the end of the century, which could have catastrophic results.

World Environment Day is about acknowledging the struggles we face concerning the environment, and recognizing what we must do to protect our home. Learn more about how to celebrate World Environment Day and how to participate here.