[Commentary]: Joe Biden Has Promised to Rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement on Day One of His Presidency. No Other Issue Is More Urgent.
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden vowed on Wednesday that he will recommit the United States to the Paris Climate Agreement on his first day in office. Rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement would help the US begin to repair its standing in the international community, it having been significantly eroded by President Donald Trump and his isolationist policies.
“Today, the Trump Administration officially left the Paris Climate Agreement. And in exactly 77 days, a Biden Administration will rejoin it,” Biden tweeted.
Today, the Trump Administration officially left the Paris Climate Agreement. And in exactly 77 days, a Biden Administration will rejoin it. https://t.co/L8UJimS6v2
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) November 5, 2020
The Paris Agreement entered into force on 4 November 2016, thirty days after the date on which at least 55 Parties to the Convention accounting in total for at least an estimated 55 % of the total global greenhouse gas emissions have deposited their instruments of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession with the Depositary.
It constitutes a worldwide effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to keep global temperatures from rising more than two degrees Celsius by the end of the century. Because the US pulled out, however, that is now unattainable, and there will be enormous consequences for the future of human civilization and life on our planet.
The agreement’s biggest flaw was that it did not include any means of enforcing adherence by the countries that signed it.
China, the US, India, and Russia are the biggest generators of greenhouse gases, respectively.
Anthropromorphic climate change is the single-greatest and most imminent threat to the survival of the human race. No known natural processes have ever cooked the Earth as quickly as industrialized human society has over the span of two short centuries, and we have a decade at most to change course. Some experts have warned that the planet may have already passed critical tipping points, meaning that runaway greenhouse effects may already be irreversible and unstoppable.
According to the vast majority of the world’s scientists (>99.9 percent), the burning of fossil fuels is warming the Earth by such extreme amounts that by 2100, temperatures could jump by four or even seven degrees Celsius, as some apocalyptic climate models suggest. If that were to occur, most species of plants and animals would go extinct, including us.
In fact, the planet is getting hotter faster than any other time in history, based on geological data from ice cores reaching back tens of thousands of years.
In the Arctic and Antarctic, temperatures are rising at double the rates of the rest of the planet, on average. This is causing the ice caps to melt, which in turn dumps cold, fresh water to the oceans.
Reductions in ice allow more heat to be absorbed from the Sun, which in turn causes more heating.
As the ice melts, sea levels will continue to rise, and as ocean water loses its salinity, disruptions to crucial oceanic and atmospheric currents, such as the Atlantic jet stream, become a frightening possibility.
Ice, along with the permafrost or frozen ground beneath it, both contain billions of tons of stored carbon dioxide and methane – a greenhouse gas with vastly more heat-trapping power than CO2. “Methane seeps,” as they are known, act as another source of warming, and once these gases are freed, it cannot be undone.
Additionally, our oceans are acidifying, due to the stupendous amounts of CO2 they are absorbing from the atmosphere. This has led to collapses in marine food chains, bleaching of coral reefs, and coastal “dead zones” devoid of life-sustaining oxygen.
The decimation of rain forests and wetlands is another destructive practice that hastens our demise. Not only do these regions harbor hundreds of thousands of unique species of plants and animals, they produce precipitation and convert CO2 into oxygen, which is essential for complex life.
Currently, average global temperatures are around one degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and we have seen what even a small boost in trapped heat can do to our biosphere – wildfires, bigger, more frequent and powerful storms, hotter weather, droughts, and mass extinctions – have only occured on small scales compared to what humanity faces if we do not clean up our act.
World-renowned naturalist Sir Richard Attenborough said in 2012:
In the early days of dealing with climate change, I wouldn’t go out on a limb one way or another, because I don’t have the qualifications there. But I do have the qualifications to measure the scientific community and see what the consensus is about climate change. I remember the moment when I suddenly thought it was incontrovertible. There was a lecture given by a distinguished American expert in atmospheric science and he showed a series of graphs about the temperature changes in the upper atmosphere. He plotted time against population growth and industrialisation. It was incontrovertible, and once you think it’s really totally incontrovertible, then you have a responsibility to say so.
Our collective climate inaction has made Attenborough, 94, fearful of what the future has in store.
“We are a plague on the Earth. It’s coming home to roost over the next 50 years or so. It’s not just climate change; it’s sheer space, places to grow food for this enormous horde. Either we limit our population growth or the natural world will do it for us, and the natural world is doing it for us right now,” Attenborough remarked in 2013.
“We’re suffocating ourselves by cutting things down. And the awful thing is that the knowledge is there. Fifty years ago when we exterminated things, we did it without realising. Now there’s plenty of evidence of what it is we’re doing, and yet we keep on doing it,” he later added.
But is not too late for us. Demand for clean, renewable sources of energy is on the rise. Many nations have transformed substantial fractions of their power grids away from fossil fuels in favor of renewables.
The solar industry in particular has seen dramatic improvements in effiency and reductions in cost. Wind farms are popping up all over the world. Hydroelectric and geothermal power stations are being built, and nuclear power is a much safer and more sustainable option than it was in the late 20th Century.