US formally leaves Paris climate agreement, but Biden pledges return

The United States left the Paris climate accord on Wednesday, becoming the first country to ever withdraw from an international environment pact, but Joe Biden vowed the USA would immediately return if he is elected president.

What the Paris climate agreement is trying to prevent.
What the Paris climate agreement is trying to prevent. AP - Martin Meissner

As vote counting continued after Tuesday's presidential election, Democratic challenger Joe Biden lost no time in taking the tone of a future president-elect and made it clear that climate would be his top priority.

"Today, the Trump Administration officially left the Paris Climate Agreement. And in exactly 77 days, a Biden Administration will rejoin it," tweeted Biden, who would take the presidential oath on 20 January.

Biden has proposed a $1.7 trillion-plan to take the US, the world's second biggest carbon emitter, to net zero by 2050.

Fossil fuel champion Trump 

Incumbent leader Donald Trump has aggressively championed the fossil fuel industry, questioned the science of climate change and weakened other environmental protections.

However, a report last month by the group America's Pledge found that even without help from Washington, action from cities, states and businesses would still make it possible for the US to cut emissions by 37 percent by 2030.

Trump gave a one-year notice to leave the Paris accord on 4 November 2019. Biden would need to officially notify the United Nations of US willingness to return.

Such a notification would be "the easy part," according to Andrew Light, a climate advisor to former president Barack Obama.

US 'outside the conversation'

The US will still be "outside the conversation" when Britain and the UN host a climate summit on 12 December, the fifth anniversary of the Paris Climate Conference.

According to the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in order to have a chance of keeping end-of-century warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius, global emissions need to reach net zero around mid-century.

Niklas Höhne, a climate scientist at Wageningen University in the Netherlands and a member of a simulation group called Climate Action Tracker, wrote on Twitter that "Biden's climate plan alone could reduce temperature increase in the order of 0.1°C.

"This election could be a make or break point for international climate policy. Every tenth of a degree counts," he said.


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