If The USA Exits The Paris Agreement, This Is What Will Happen


Robin Andrews

Science & Policy Writer

The Eiffel Tower is illuminated by green lights in order to celebrate the ratification of the Paris Agreement. Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

After plenty of of delayed meetings and cloak-and-dagger mystery, President Trump is apparently poised to take the US out of the Paris agreement.

An official decision is expected any day now, but it appears his advisors that severely dislike the pact – including Breitbart alum Steve Bannon and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief Scott Pruitt – are winning the argument.


Although plenty of people have heard of the Paris agreement, few know exactly what it does, and why it would be, in the view of IFLScience, a terrible mistake for the US to withdraw from it. Here is your primer, dear readers.

What The Paris Agreement Does

The Paris agreement was signed by almost every single country in the world back in December 2015, with China and the US – the world’s first and second-most prolific greenhouse gas (GHG) emitters by far, respectively – being the key brokers of the deal.

It was rightly seen at the time as a groundbreaking call to arms: a legitimate, workable attempt to stop the world warming any more than 2°C (3.6°F), and preferably no more than 1.5°C (2.7°F), by the end of the century, as requested by a swath of developing and vulnerable nations.


Each of the nations that have signed the Paris Agreement has had to submit their plans to draw down their GHGs over the next few decades. Importantly, as noted in the pact, each nation’s framework for cutting GHGs has to get stronger and more ambitious over time. They are legally mandated to keep informing the UN as to how they are progressing in this manner, but there isn’t a punitive measure in place for those that fall behind.

Wind power is rising fast. Mimadeo/Shutterstock

Poorer nations already plagued by climate nightmares will have a harder time cutting their GHG levels, which is why wealthier nations have agreed to contribute billions in aid payments to ease their transition from fossil fuels to renewables.

For its part, the Obama administration pledged $3 billion in such aid. It donated $1 billion before Obama left office, and the $2 billion is not expected to be handed over by his successor.

That, in a nutshell, is what Paris is about – so what would or could happen if America withdrew from it, and the agreement ultimately fails?


The US Economy Could Take A Massive Hit

Powerful natural disasters, as well as the effect that rising temperatures will have on an increasingly stressed workforce, means that the US could be be robbed of $2 trillion by 2030. If it remains in the pact, one analysis suggests that the entire world economy will get a $19 trillion paycheck by 2050, with America getting a significant share – and not just because there’ll be less damage from hurricanes and flooding.

Markets have turned against coal. It may be cheap these days, but renewables and natural gas – a low-carbon fossil fuel – are in many US states even cheaper, and far less likely to cause litigation-heavy disasters and pollution outbreaks.

Consequently, compared to coal and gas, the renewable energy sector is adding five times as many jobs. In fact, the job market in clean energy is expanding so rapidly that this is where the bulk of the $19 trillion would come from.


Trump often boasts on Twitter about jobs he’s supposedly creating by signing his stream of nonsensical executive orders, even though plenty of these are the result of a record job growth streak that’s hanging over from the previous administration. If he really wants to create jobs, he should invest in solar panels and wind turbines.

Wildfires are getting a lot more common these days. Anthony Heflin/Shutterstock

America Would Be Pummeled By Increasingly Powerful Natural Disasters

Hurricanes are terrifying forces of nature, but it’s not the wind that does the most damage – it’s the storm surge. This flooding is responsible for the most infrastructural damage and death, and it’ll only be exacerbated by rising sea levels.

Hurricanes, in general, are becoming stronger, with increasingly warm waters providing them with more “fuel”. They’re also getting stranger, and sometimes appearing in unprecedented pairs before slamming into US coastlines.


According to the Congressional Budget Office, the expected annual hurricane damage bill is around $28 billion. By 2075, thanks to unconscientious coastal development and climate change, this will rise to $39 billion.

As Spring arrives earlier every year and summer gets more intense, droughts and wildfires will also linger for longer. In terms of the latter, since 1979, wildfire seasons are now 19 percent longer, and the global frequency of long fire weather seasons has jumped up by 53 percent. The amount of burnable land affected has risen by a staggering 108 percent.

Climate Refugees From Coastal Regions May Flood Inland

So far, climate change refugees are found moving across the Middle East and parts of sub-Saharan Africa, parts of which will be uninhabitably hot and devoid of local, drinkable water by 2050. Similarly, low-lying islands in the middle of the Pacific and Indian Oceans will soon see them sink beneath the waves, forcing their residents to flee.

Plenty of cities in wealthy nations will be in trouble too, including Italy's Venice. Thomas Pesquent/ESA/NASA

However, America is set to get climate refugees of its own.

During the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton and Al Gore made a campaign stop together in Florida. The state is particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels and hurricanes, so they made a point that the Republican Senator from Florida, Marco Rubio, is ironically a climate change denier. Rubio was re-elected as Senator anyway.

This won’t help those living along the coast, particularly in Miami, which will see more than 2 million of its residents lose their houses to the sea by 2100. In total, 13.1 million Americans will be forced to move away from the coast and into cities further inland by then. This will place a huge burden on cities like Dallas, Atlanta, Seattle, and Chicago – and an economic headache is likely to follow.

America Will Get Sicker


Climate change also, directly and indirectly, affects people’s health in ways scientists are only just beginning to discover. For every degree the mercury rises, an extra 100,000 people will get diabetes as their warmer bodies will be unable to break down blood sugar as efficiently. Earlier Springs mean that asthma and hay fever sufferers will experience attacks earlier and more severely.

Communicable diseases like malaria and Zika will be able to reach areas further north than they have ever been, and stagnant air means pollution lingers for longer. Expect an increase in respiratory and cardiovascular ailments over the next few decades.

America’s Defensive Capabilities May Weaken

There’s a surprisingly linear relationship between violence and environmental temperature, which leads to some shocking projections. Between 1981 and 2006, warfare in sub-Saharan Africa has increased by more than 11 percent, and by 2030, the annual incidence of war will have jumped up 54 percent.


In short, climate change is robbing developing nations vulnerable to violence of basic resources, like food and water. This leads to a collapsing economy and warring people, which as a recent report notes fuels extremism, something that America is indeed wary of.

War will become more common and more costly. lordache gabriel/Shutterstock

A bipartisan group of defense experts in the US, and even Trump’s own Defense Secretary understands that climate change will make protecting the US’ interests at home and overseas more difficult. Apart from an increase in overseas violence, more powerful natural disasters will threaten American troop deployments and military bases in far-flung nations.

Violent Crime Within The US May Worsen

Speaking of violence, a warmer America will also cause a noticeable spike in stress among some of its citizens. Based on past trends, an America that refuses to cut its carbon emissions will see an extra 180,000 rape cases, 22,000 murders, and 1.2 million aggravated assault cases by the end of the century.


Those Below The Poverty Line Will Suffer

Plenty of us take food for granted, but there are millions of Americans who struggle to buy food every single day. As of 2015, there were 43.1 million of them below the poverty line. As the climate warms, food will be harder to grow, as studies have shown that agriculture cannot keep up with the rate of warming.

As agriculture begins to fail, food will become rarer – or imported more – and will become more expensive. Plenty of these people in poverty will begin to starve without any form of welfare.

America’s Influence In The World Will Shrink


One of the few arguments that Trump may pay attention to, this is the primary concern touted by those in his inner circle that advocate staying within the treaty, including his own daughter.

The Paris agreement is one of the largest diplomatic undertakings in human history, and not even one of the other signatories have said they’ll withdraw from the pact if America does. Most notably, both the European Union and China have stepped up to the plate.

China is a nascent superpower that is often in active competition with the US. Although it has likely come to realize that it needs to cut down on its emissions to protect its own civilians from the scourge of pollution and climate change, it sees an opportunity here to lead from the front.

If America does withdraw from Paris, China will at this rate become the de facto leading voice on climate change. This will boost its global image among otherwise wary nations, and America’s influence will wane significantly as a result.


The Wider World Would Suffer Too…

If the world’s second-most prolific GHG producer fails to stick to Paris, the world will be a far more dangerous place – that much is very clear indeed.

Developing nations, those who rely on America’s payments to the UN, will fall by the wayside and probably stick to cheaper coal. There’s a chance that the Paris agreement will fail without America’s contributions, and the world will breach the 2°C limit by 2100 – or worse.

…But, There Is Hope


Cautiously, though, things might still be fine. While it’ll undoubtedly be a blow to everyone else if America does withdraw its support, there are signs that the rest of the world is working so hard at phasing out coal and oil that the Paris agreement may still be adhered to some degree.

Just look at the US. Trump may have recently signed away a raft of Obama’s climate measures, but even the objectives for cutting GHGs proposed in the now-defunct Clean Power Plan (CPP) are already being met way ahead of schedule.

The CPP aimed to reduce power plant emissions to 32 percent of 2005 levels by 2030. As of last year, GHGs have dropped to 24 percent of 2005 levels, with 14 years left still to go. At this rate, the targets will be exceeded by 2030, despite the fact that the CPP doesn’t even technically exist.

Why? Well, as aforementioned, natural gas, solar, and wind power is getting cheaper to buy, install, and run all the time, and market forces are beginning to eschew riskier oil and coal reserves. Secondly, individual states – particularly New York and California – are transforming their electrical grids to feature far more renewable sources than ever before.

Banksy makes his point. Duncan Hall/Flickr; CC BY 2.0

Lastly, and most importantly, voters want clean energy. In fact, two-thirds of Americans want Trump to ignore fossil fuels and focus on wind and solar instead. Similarly, two-thirds of Americans wanted the US to play a huge role in the Paris agreement.

The future lies in the hands of the people. Even if Trump ultimately withdraws from Paris – which will take about three to four years, legally speaking – this probably won’t matter as much as you think in the long run.

As long as people use their vote when it counts, they can elect Congressional lawmakers, senators, governors, and even a President that wants to save the planet – and America with it – instead of letting it burn.


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