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What does Trump's EPA executive action mean for international relations?

By Lauren AguirreMarch 30, 2017

Donald Trump EPA order
U.S. President Donald Trump, center, speaks before signing an energy independence executive order as U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, left, and Scott Pruitt, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), smile at EPA headquarters in Washington, D.C. on Thursday, March 28, 2017. Trump moved aggressively to undo his predecessor's carbon-cutting commitments, promising 'a new energy revolution' that would unleash America's abundant fossil-fuel resources. Getty Images

In light of President Donald Trump’s recent executive action calling on the Environmental Protection Agency to roll back Obama-era regulations, there has been much discussion of the Paris Agreement. What is the Paris Agreement and why does it matter? Is rolling back the environmental regulations a bad thing?

The Paris Agreement refers to an agreement made by 200 countries in Paris on climate change. The agreement has been accepted or ratified by 141 countries, including the United States. The agreement requires the countries that have ratified it to reduce carbon emissions as soon as possible and continue reductions as the century progresses. The ultimate goal stated in the Paris agreement is to keep global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius by 2100. By keeping temperatures below this level, many of the worst effects of climate change might be averted.

 

The provisions of the Paris Agreement regarding setting emissions targets are not legally binding. 

The agreement was ratified by the United States in 2015 while Barack Obama was president. Trump’s executive order issued Tuesday orders his administration to roll back Obama-era environmental regulations that controlled carbon pollution by electric utilities, oil and gas drillers and coal mines. This could result in the United States failing to meet the Paris Agreement terms.

The provisions of the Paris Agreement regarding setting emissions targets are not legally binding. Meaning, the countries involved have no legal penalty if they fail to meet the targets. However, reporting requirements are binding. Despite the lack of legal repercussions, the United States could still face backlash from the international community.

All of the countries participating in the agreement are keeping an eye on what everyone else is doing — just like how every other part of international politics works. Every big player on the world stage has ratified the Paris Agreement. If America fails to tamp down on our carbon emissions, we could face some repercussions from our biggest trade partners or in United Nations negotiations.

 

The United States still produces about 16 percent of global carbon emissions. We are second behind China at about 28 percent

The effectiveness of the Paris Agreement completely depends upon the willingness of every country in following it — especially the biggest countries. The United States still produces about 16 percent of global carbon emissions. We are second behind China at about 28 percent. So even if every other country follows the terms, the United States could still be pumping quite a bit of pollutants into the atmosphere. This would make all other efforts by everyone else practically useless. No doubt it would frustrate the international community and leave the United States in rocky territory.

The United States is a world power, but it is only one world power. When we negotiate trade deals or really anything else with other countries, there’s some give and take. Other major players could hold America’s failing to meet the terms of the Paris Agreement over us in negotiations. If we don’t end up cutting down on our carbon emissions somehow, negotiating anything with anyone could become difficult.