While the week was dominated with giddy speculation over the true meaning of the word ‘covfefe’, a bigger story deserves our attention: namely, President Donald Trump announced moments ago that the United States will withdraw from the historic Paris climate accord.
Negotiated in 2015 by members of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Paris climate agreement is the world’s first international attempt to slow global climate change by voluntarily limiting the greenhouse gas emissions of member countries. The agreement was set to become effective once 55 countries that emit the majority of the world’s greenhouse gases had signed the treaty; that milestone was reached in April of 2016 when the United States and China — who alone contribute more than 40% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions — joined the Paris climate accord as signatories.
Climate scientists largely agree that the planet is quickly reaching a point-of-no-return when it comes to climate change. Atmospheric carbon dioxide is roughly 400 ppm, ~30% higher than it was in 1950 and at levels never before recorded in the Earth’s history as determined by ice core measurements. Over the last century, the earth’s air and water have both noticeably warmed, and global sea levels have risen 8 inches due in large part to disintegrating polar ice. These changes are predicted to threaten coastal ecologies and urban centers, increase the frequency of extreme weather events, and devastate the world’s food production. While the Paris climate accord will not alone be sufficient to halt and reverse man-made climate change, it is a necessary first step that will likely slow global warming compared to if global gas emissions continues unchecked.