Will We Always Have Paris? President Trump Begins Formal Process of U.S. Withdrawal from the Paris Agreement

Will We Always Have Paris? President Trump Begins Formal Process of U.S. Withdrawal from the Paris Agreement

By Jenna Jonjua

On Monday, November 4, 2019, the Trump administration served notice of U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement to the United Nation.[1] In doing so, the U.S., only second in greenhouse gas emissions[2], begins the process of breaking from nearly every other country on the planet, a group accounting for 97 percent of the world’s climate pollution.[3] In a press statement, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo mentioned numerous reasons for the break, citing success in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and other air pollutants thought to be harmful to human health and the environment.[4]

The U.S. ratified the Paris Agreement, “the most ambitious climate change agreement in history,” in 2016.[5]  President Obama later remarked that “this agreement will help delay or avoid some of the worst consequences of climate change.”[6]  Per the agreement, the U.S. committed to cut emissions by at least 26 percent by 2025, with other countries with high levels of emissions like China and India committing to their own goals of curbed greenhouse gas emissions before 2030.[7]  A primary goal of the Paris Agreement is to keep the temperature increase below two degrees Celsius.[8]

While the final commitment of the U.S. to the Paris Agreement will rely on the results of the 2020 presidential election,[9] this initiation of withdrawal procedures puts remaining countries on notice to think about the Agreement’s effectiveness without United States involvement. The United Nations recently found that half of the G20 members are falling short of meeting their nationally determined contributions to the Agreement, including the United States.[10]  In the absence of the U.S., other major emitters will likely have to step up.[11]

The commitment to the Agreement also remains strong locally in the U.S., where 14 states that represent nearly 40 percent of the population have pledged to make Paris goals by the end of 2025.[12] Over one hundred major global companies have committed to reducing their emissions in line with the Paris Agreement’s goals,[13] while hundreds of institutional shareholders have called on some of the largest public companies in the U.S. to align climate lobbying with the aims of the Paris Agreement.[14]

There has been an increase in climate litigation following the conclusion of the Paris Agreement, making courts an important participant in “multilevel climate governance”.[15] While the U.S. still leads in the amount of climate change jurisprudence, there are hundreds of climate change cases that have been brought in over thirty jurisdictions. This global trend of increasing climate litigation “highlights the key part that domestic litigation is playing in advancing the goals of international law instruments, such as the Paris Agreement.”[16]

While the world awaits final commitment or withdrawal by the U.S. over the next year, continued commitment from local actors, corporations and major polluters and litigation of climate issues will be crucial in moving towards the ultimate goals set out in the Paris Agreement.



[1] Lisa Friedman, Trump Serves Notice to Quit Paris Climate Agreement, N.Y. Times, (Nov. 4, 2019), https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/04/climate/trump-paris-agreement-climate.html.

[2]Keith Johnson, Is the United States Really Leaving the Paris Climate Agreement?, Foreign Policy (Nov. 5. 2019, 3:20 PM), https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/11/05/paris-climate-agreement-united-states-withdraw/.

[3] Melissa Denchak, Everything You Need to Know, NRDC (Dec. 12, 2018), https://www.nrdc.org/stories/paris-climate-agreement-everything-you-need-know.

[4]Press Release, Mike Pompeo, Secretary of State, On the U.S. Withdrawal from the Paris Agreement (Nov. 4, 2019), https://www.state.gov/on-the-u-s-withdrawal-from-the-paris-agreement/.

[5] Tanya Somanader, President Obama: The United States Formally Enters the Paris Agreement, Obama White House Blog, (Sept. 3, 2016, 10:41 AM), https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/blog/2016/09/03/president-obama-united-states-formally-enters-paris-agreement.

[6] Oliver Milman, Paris climate deal a ‘turning point’ in global warming fight, Obama says, The Guardian, (Oct. 5, 2016, 5:28 PM), https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/oct/05/obama-paris-climate-deal-ratification

[7] https://www.nrdc.org/experts/jake-schmidt/paris-climate-agreement-explained-what-actions-did-countries-commit-implement.

[8] U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, What is the Paris Agreement? (Last visited Nov. 5, 2019), https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-paris-agreement/what-is-the-paris-agreement.

[9] Friendman, supra note 1.

[10]U.N. Environment Programme, Emissions Gap Report 2018, Job No. DEW/2210/NA (2018), https://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/26879/EGR2018_ESEN.pdf?sequence=10.

[11] Friendman, supra note 1.

[12]Eric Niller, Trump Can Now Exit the Paris Accord. It’s Still a Bad Idea, Wired (Nov. 4, 2019), https://www.wired.com/story/trump-can-now-exit-the-paris-accord-its-still-a-bad-idea/.

[13] Press Release, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, 100+ Global Corporations Commit To Science-Based Targets Aligned With Paris Agreement (Apr. 17, 2018), https://unfccc.int/news/100-global-corporations-commit-to-science-based-targets-aligned-with-paris-agreement.

[14] Press Release, Ceres, 200 Investors Call on US Companies to Align Climate Lobbying With Paris Agreement (Sept. 16, 2019), https://www.ceres.org/news-center/press-releases/200-investors-call-us-companies-align-climate-lobbying-paris-agreement.

[15] Jacqueline Peel & Jolene Lin, Transnational Climate Litigation: The Contribution of the Global South, 113 Am. J. Int’l L. 679 (2019).

[16] Id.