The U.S. commitment to the Paris Agreement, which aims to lower greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, matters for four big reasons:
1. The U.S. is the #2 producer of greenhouse gases. Just 10 countries contribute nearly 73 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and of those 10, the U.S. is number two. In 2012, the U.S. contributed about 15 percent of the total global greenhouse gas emissions. China (which has over three times the population of the U.S.) emits the highest level of greenhouse gases at 25 percent. Needless to say, without the U.S.’s participation in the Agreement it would be difficult to attain the goals set forth.
2. The U.S. is wealthy. The financial contribution from the U.S. to the Green Climate Fund would provide support to developing countries coping with climate change. Without this monetary support, the ability of these less-wealthy countries to manage climate threats is undermined.
3. The U.S. should be a team player. A dismissal of the Agreement by the U.S. may have consequences on the international stage. It may become difficult for the U.S. to garner cooperation for other interests and agendas on the world stage if our noncooperation within the Paris Agreement has a negative impact to other countries.
4. Changes in domestic energy production may increase U.S. emissions. Over the last 15 months, throughout President-Elect Donald Trump’s campaign stops, he has spoken about reigniting the domestic coal, oil, and gas industries. If this occurs, we may actually see our emissions increase and enthusiasm for clean energy decrease.
While countries cannot simply walk away the Paris Agreement without negotiating a departure and going through a withdrawal process, there is a possibility to just ignore the Agreement and the NDC. If the U.S. takes this path and continues business-as-usual, detrimental environmental effects would surely follow. The bottom line is that the U.S. has a strategic interest in helping the global community reach a sustainable level of greenhouse gas production, and without a strong U.S. commitment, the Paris Agreement is likely to fail.