President Trump on Thursday announced plans to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate accord, a landmark international agreement to reduce planet-warming emissions that nearly every country in the world signed on to.
"We're getting out," Trump said at a ceremony at the White House Rose Garden, a fulfillment of his long-held campaign promise to walk away from an agreement he's assailed as a bad deal for American workers and industries and one that gives other countries an edge over the U.S.
“Our withdrawal from the agreement represents a reassertion of American workers’ sovereignty,” he added, noting the possibility of renegotiating the deal under terms more favorable to U.S. interests. "I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris."
For years before becoming president, Trump criticized the very concept of climate change, calling it everything from “nonexistent" and “mythical” to a "very expensive, hoax!”
The announcement ends months of speculation over the direction he would go in. Some of the most conservative members of his administration — namely top aide Steve Bannon and head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt -- had advocated strongly for walking away from the deal. More recently, though, a number of influential advisers, including his son-in-law Jared Kushner and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (the former head of Exxon Mobil) -- had lobbied for staying the course, in part to avoid likely diplomatic blowback. So too had a host of major corporations, including several energy industry giants.
News of the U.S. withdrawal sent shock waves around the country and the world, prompting scores of foreign leaders and U.S. city and state officials doubled down on their commitment to reducing carbon emissions. Per the terms of the agreement, the U.S. will likely withdraw over a 3-year period, which means it won't officially exit until, coincidentally, a day after the next presidential election. It will then join Syria and Nicaragua as the only three countries not involved in the pact.
In December 2015, representatives of 195 nations agreed to limit greenhouse gas emissions by a set amount over a specified time period, with the overall goal of preventing global average surface temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius (about 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-Industrial Revolution temperatures (when we started burning large amounts of fossil fuels). Anything beyond that would likely result in irreversible, catastrophic environmental consequences throughout the world, including rapid sea level rise and devastating floods and drought, according to a broad scientific consensus.
The United Nations conference on climate change, or COP21 (Conference of Parties), followed nearly 20 years of mostly failed efforts. The deal also includes pledges from the world's wealthiest nations and largest emitters to raise billions each year to help poor countries build more sustainable economies.
The Obama administration, which took a lead role in brokering the Paris accord, committed the U.S. to reducing emissions by at least 26 percent of 2005 levels over the next decade, and offering $3 billion in aid for poorer countries by 2020. Although it makes up less than 5 percent of the world's population, the U.S. is second only to China in greenhouse gas emissions, and historically, the largest contributor to climate change.
"In cumulative terms, we certainly own this problem more than anybody else does," David G. Victor, director of the Laboratory on International Law and Regulation, told The New York Times.
And that's why Trump's decision to renege on America's commitment to reducing emissions has dealt such a harsh blow to a deal that many world leaders consider the last, best international opportunity to avoid the most destructive impacts of a changing climate change.
The visualization below was created by Duncan Clark and Robin Houston of the the design Kiln. It uses a distorted interactive map to show how much each nation has contributed to carbon emissions and how vulnerable each is to its impacts.