Last December in Paris, the nations of the world agreed to an ambitious goal for greenhouse gas emissions: to bring net emissions to zero in the second half of this century. Their objective: to limit global warming to 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius (2.7 to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial temperatures, or equivalently about 0.5 to 1.0°C (0.9 to 1.8°F) above the current global average temperature.
The Paris Agreement set up a process by which countries commit to emissions targets and then, every five years, report on their progress and make increasingly stringent new commitments. Current national commitments, which lay out targets for the 2025-2030 time frame, aren’t enough to get us to the long-term goal. But the current commitments and the new process constitute a major step toward breaking the dangerous fossil fuel addiction of the last two centuries.
Fossil fuels are running out. Calin Tatu/Shutterstock
Market forces and public policy in the U.S. and around the world are already helping push the world away from carbon-intensive fuels and toward renewable energy. U.S. carbon dioxide emissions peaked in 2007, and it’s possible that Chinese emissions peaked in 2014. This market-led, policy-accelerated shift is making reduction goals more attainable than they seemed a decade ago.
Donald Trump’s “America First” energy plan, outlined in May and focused on expanding fossil-fuel production, would reverse these advances. Trump has promised to “cancel” the Paris climate agreement and pledged to reopen coal mines – a pledge which, given the unfavorable economics of coal mining, he could fulfill only through a massive expansion of corporate welfare for coal companies.
Backing out of the Paris Agreement would undermine U.S. leadership and stall greenhouse gas reduction efforts around the world. And expanding production of coal could return us to the pathway of rapidly rising emissions that characterized the 2000s.
The climate consequences of such a great leap backwards would be severe. Far from placing America first, they would threaten the health of Americans and of the American economy – not to mention people and economies throughout the world.