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Delegates from more than 190 countries will be meeting in Morocco for a landmark climate change conference at the same time the United States might elect a climate change skeptic as president.
The United Nations’ climate change conference (COP22) in the Moroccan city of Marrakesh from November 7 until November 18 will focus largely on the actions governments around the world can take to meet the goals of last December’s historic Paris Agreement.
Nearly 200 countries pledged to reduce their carbon emissions to keep the increase in average global temperature to below 2°C. The treaty’s ratification by the European Union and several countries this month pushed it over a crucial threshold — approval of nations accounting for 55 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions — for it to take effect on November 4.
If someone hostile to the Paris Agreement were to become President of the United States — like Republican candidate Donald Trump — he would be able to get the country out of the treaty by the end of his first term.
Trump has said many times that he is “not a huge believer in the global warming phenomenon” and has dismissed climate change as a “money-making industry.” He even vowed to “cancel the Paris Climate Agreement and stop all payments of U.S. tax dollars to U.N. global warming programs” within his first 100 days in the Oval Office.
On September 20, 376 members of the National Academy of Sciences — including renowned physicist Stephen Hawking and 30 Nobel laureates — signed an open letter drawing attention to the long-lasting consequences that backing out of the Paris Agreement would have for the climate and the United States’ international credibility.
“Nations that find innovative ways of decarbonizing energy systems and sequestering CO2 will be the economic leaders of the 21st century,” the letter reads. “Walking away from Paris makes it less likely that the U.S. will have a global leadership role, politically, economically or morally. We cannot afford to cross that tipping point.”
The U.S. presidential election on November 8 pits Trump against Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, who has called climate change “an urgent threat and a defining challenge of our time.”
The Paris Agreement’s 28th article states that any country is permitted to withdraw from the agreement three years after it enters into force for that party. So, would Trump be able to back the U.S. out of the international agreement by the end of his first term? In short: yes, but not without serious consequences.
Dan Bodansky, a professor of law at Arizona State University and a top authority on global climate change, said that Trump could submit the United States’ withdrawal in November 2019 and it would become effective a year later, 2020.
“Withdrawing from Paris would have some pretty significant diplomatic ramifications because there’s so much global support for it and there was a huge effort in the negotiations to get an agreement that the U.S. could participate in and the U.S. shaped the agreement significantly,” he said in an interview with Yahoo News.
“So now if the U.S. said, ‘We’re not going to be party to it anyway, that really undermines the ability of the U.S. to negotiate other things because nobody knows whether the U.S. is going to join no matter what they agree to in terms of what the U.S. was asking.”
If he wanted to, Trump would immediately be able to file a notice of withdrawal from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the environmental treaty from which the Paris Agreement was born, and it would take effect a year later, according to Bodansky. The UNFCCC entered into force in 1994 and a party would similarly be able to withdraw after three years.
“It’s the foundation of international cooperation on climate change,” Bodansky explained. “Withdrawing from the Paris Agreement would be seen internationally in a very negative light but withdrawing from the framework convention would be a whole different level of magnitude,” he said.
On May 16, Morocco’s Minister of Environment Hakima El Haité was named “High-Level Climate Champion of Morocco,” responsible for sustaining the “spirit and momentum” created by the agreement and to encourage states (and non-state actors) to accelerate their climate-conscious initiatives.
Yahoo News asked El Haité if she was concerned about the possibility of Trump following through on his campaign promises and backing out of the Paris Agreement.
“America is a country of science. You are the one who landed on the moon, so I think you’re (open to) science. So I think the candidate will have time to look at the science,” El Haité said to Yahoo News.
“I think that the candidate is a very successful entrepreneur. And if he’s not convinced of climate change, he can be convinced of the opportunity that climate change gives to entrepreneurs.”
She said that Americans don’t even need to look beyond their own country to see the impact of climate change, “that people are already suffering.”
Clinton has pledged to set ambitious national environment goals on day one: generate enough renewable energy to power every home in the U.S. and install half a billion solar panels by the end of her first term. She said investing in renewables now could make the U.S. “the world’s clean energy superpower” and energize the nation’s economy by creating good-paying jobs.
During the first presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., she reminded the audience that Trump has called climate change a Chinese plot to undermine the American economy.
“Donald thinks that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. I think it’s real,” she said.
“I did not. I did not. I do not say that,” Trump said.
Trump did in fact put forth this theory on Twitter on November 6, 2012.
In January, former presidential candidate and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders drew tremendous laughter from the audience of a Democratic primary debate when he brought up Trump’s claim about China.
“It is beyond my comprehension how we can elect a President of the United States, somebody like Trump who believes that climate change is a hoax invented by the Chinese,” Sanders said.
Trump was asked to respond to Sanders’ attack during an interview on Fox & Friends. He rolled back his claim that China invented the concept of climate change but maintained that any actions taken by the U.S. simply helps Chinese businesses at the expense of American businesses.
“I think that climate change is just a very, very expensive form of tax. A lot of people are making a lot of money. I know much about climate change. I’ve received many environmental awards. And I often joke that this is done for the benefit of China — obviously I joke — but this done for the benefit of China,” Trump said.
Elsewhere, he has called climate change an expensive “hoax” many, many times.
Sara Chieffo, the vice president of government affairs at the League of Conservation Voters, a pro-environment advocacy organization, said the differences between Clinton and Trump could not be greater when it comes to environmental protections and climate leadership specifically.
“Donald Trump said he would undo the Clean Power Plan, one of the biggest steps the U.S. has taken to combat climate change,” she told Yahoo News. “We have reason to believe he would woefully underfund the agencies that are charged with both following through on the implementation of the Clean Power Plan, as well as other steps we need to take to make even further progress.”
Salaheddine Mezouar, the president of COP22 and the Minister of Foreign Affairs for Morocco, said that ratifying the Paris agreement had been his number one priority.
On October 5, U.S. President Barack Obama celebrated this milestone and said making the U.S. a leader in the climate crisis was one of the reasons he sought the Oval Office in the first place.
“Last month, the United States and China — the world’s two largest economies and largest emitters — formally joined that agreement together. And today, the world has officially crossed the threshold for the Paris Agreement to take effect,” Obama said in the White House Rose Garden. “Today, the world meets the moment. And if we follow through on the commitments that this agreement embodies, history may well judge it as a turning point for our planet.”
The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment.