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What is the Paris Agreement and what happens if the U.S. leaves it? 

On Saturday, six members of the G7 group of world’s wealthiest nations voted to stay in the Paris Agreement.

The six which voted to stay in were Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom. The seventh country is currently led by a Very Naughty Boy who is proving that he is unable to play nicely with others.

Later that day, the Naughty Boy took to Twitter which is his favourite place to throw tantrums about fake news, Russia investigations and celebrities. He says he will make his final decision next week.

While U.S. President Donald Trump decides, we can take this time to ponder: what exactly is the Paris Agreement and what will happen if the U.S. leaves?

The Paris Agreement is a continuation of efforts to kerb global warming that began with The Convention in 1994 and was followed by the Kyoto Protocol of 1997.

The Convention now has near-universal membership and has been ratified by 197 countries. It was the first time that we, as an entire race, sat down and acknowledged that the world had a big ol’ problem (and that’s the first step towards recovery, right?)

If the Convention was the recognition of a problem, then the Kyoto Protocol was the attempt to put changes into action. While The Convention merely encouraged industrialised countries to reduce greenhouse emissions, the Kyoto Protocol actually forced them to do so.

But in late 2015, during the Paris Climate Conference, the United Nations (UN) decided that the Kyoto Protocol wasn’t doing enough to halt global warming which led to the creation and adoption of the Paris Agreement.

In late 2015, then-U.S. President Barack Obama praised the Paris Agreement, saying that it could be a “turning point for the world”. Geez, he’s verrrry different to the new guy.

Unlike the Kyoto Protocol, which took a “top-down” approach to legal enforcement controlling emissions, the Paris Agreement uses a “bottom-up” system in which each country sets its own goal – what the UN calls a “nationally determined contribution”.

By having each country control CO2 emissions, the Paris Agreement aims to keep global temperature rise this century below 2 degrees Celsius and to pursue efforts to limit the rise to 1.5 degrees.

Trump’s displeasure with the Paris Agreement isn’t new. During his 2016 election campaign, he often threatened to pull out of the Agreement because climate change is a “Chinese hoax” that was invented to make U.S. manufacturing “non-competitive”.

OK, so what happens if the U.S does leave?

In an effort to answer this question, the Associated Press (AP) consulted more than two dozen climate scientists and used a prediction model designed to calculate potential effects of a rise in temperature.

The AP found that if the U.S. leaves, it could result in an increase of 3 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions in the air a year. Adding that up, it would be enough to raise global temperatures up to 0.3 degrees Celsius which would melt ice sheets faster, raise sea levels higher and trigger more extreme weather.

However, other scientists felt that due to cheap natural gases and the growing adoption of renewable energy sources, the effects would be less extreme, being in the range of a 0.1 – 0.2 increase in temperature instead.

“If we lag, the noose tightens,” said Princeton University climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer, co-editor of the peer-reviewed journal Climatic Change.

But even with the U.S. on board, many of the scientists said that we would probably pass the 2-degree mark anyway. For example, how’s Australia doing with its plan to reduce emissions?

On ratifying the Paris Agreement in November 2016, Australia indicated that it would reduce emissions by 26-28 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.

However, ABC News reported in December 2016 that a leaked report led by Australia’s chief scientist Alan Finkel said we wouldn’t make it.

Depressingly, Tristan Edis, the director of Green Energy Markets, told the ABC that findings “would not be a shock” to senior figures in the Government.

“Malcolm Turnbull and the Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg already know all this stuff”, Edis said.”It’s staring you in the face that there’s no way we can make the Paris targets with the existing policies” he added.

So if the U.S. does leave, we are looking at a 0.1 – 0.3-degree increase in temperature. You’d better learn how to swim.

About the author

Stefan is an Adelaide-based freelance writer. In his spare time, he plays tennis badly, collects vinyl and brushes up on his Mandarin. Follow Stefan on Twitter

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