One year ago, on June 1, 2017, President Donald Trump stood in the White House Rose Garden and made good on a campaign promise to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement. The announcement was largely symbolic — the United States can’t actually exit the agreement until November 4, 2020 — but it signaled that, under the Trump administration, global climate action was far from a priority.
The agreement, which had been reached by nearly 200 countries in December of 2015, held that countries around the world would work to hold global temperature increase to well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) — the generally agreed upon limit for avoiding the most catastrophic consequences of climate change. At the time of the agreement, it was signed by every nation in the world — including North Korea, Russia, and Iran — save for Nicaragua and Syria (Nicaragua thought the deal didn’t go far enough, and Syria is in the middle of a devastating civil war).
Trump, for his part, never liked the deal, falsely claiming that it would harm the U.S. economy and give other countries control over the kinds of fuel that the country uses. Instead, research has found that the deal would save the United States $6 trillion. The Paris agreement is also based on a set of non-binding pledges made by each individual country party to the agreement, meaning that each country is in control of exactly how they reach their emissions reduction targets.
But Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the agreement hasn’t stopped other countries from moving forward with climate action. Here’s what other nations have been up to in the year since Trump said “au revoir” to the Paris agreement.
More parties (to the agreement)
The United States may no longer be acting like a member of the Paris agreement, but in the past year, the two remaining countries that hadn’t signed the original agreement — Syria and Nicaragua — decided to join.
In September, Nicaragua announced that it would be signing the agreement. It previously chose not sign onto the deal because it felt it didn’t go far enough to curb emissions or require enough financial aid from developed countries for mitigation and adaptation projects in developing nations.
Meaning that in the last year, the United States has become the only country in the entire world to announce its intention to not be a part of the Paris climate agreement.
Stronger emissions targets
In the last year, several countries have announced plans to achieve net zero carbon emissions under their national climate plan.
In Sweden — just days after Trump announced the United States’ intention to withdraw from the Paris agreement — the parliament overwhelmingly voted to adopt a national Climate Act that mandates reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045.
In New Zealand, prime minister Jacinda Ardern, who is also the world’s youngest female leader, announced in October that New Zealand’s government intends to vote on a bill in 2018 that would mandate that the country reach zero carbon emissions by 2050.
And in the United Kingdom, climate minister Claire Perry has said that the country will need to “legislate for a net-zero emissions target at an appropriate point in the future to provide legal certainty on where the UK is heading” — though there’s no indication of when the country might take on that challenge.
Fewer fossil fuels
In early May, Costa Rica — which is already a leading country when it comes to renewable energy — made headlines for another bold climate pledge: completely banning fossil fuels and becoming the first decarbonized country in the world.
The country, which already generates nearly all of its electricity using renewable energy sources, is considering mandating that all transportation be zero-carbon by 2021 — though experts caution that, like Trump’s Paris agreement withdrawal announcement, Costa Rica’s announcement is likely more symbolic value signaling than a hard-and-fast path to total decarbonization in three years.
But Costa Rica isn’t the only country to have taken a strong — if symbolic — stand against fossil fuels in the last year.
In July, France announced that it would ban the sale of fossil fuel-powered vehicles by 2040, in an effort to become a carbon-neutral country. Months later, the French government passed a law immediately prohibiting new licenses for oil and gas exploration, and mandating an end to oil extraction by 2040. Since France is largely dependent on imported fossil fuels — as well as nuclear and hydropower — the law is largely symbolic, but sends a signal to countries around the world that the era of fossil fuels as the de facto source of power might be ending.
Elsewhere in Europe, countries are also starting to take strong stands against coal power. A few weeks ago, the Netherlands announced that it would ban coal-fired electricity generation in the coming decade, and retire two of its five coal-fired plants at the end of 2024. And at the Bonn climate talks in November, 19 countries — including Canada and the United Kingdom — joined a global alliance that pledged to phase out the use of coal power by 2030.
Still not enough
But for all the progress made last year, it’s probably still not enough to keep the world below 2 degrees Celsius — and almost certainly not enough to achieve the agreement’s aspirational goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit).
According to the United Nations, the gap between the national plans outlined in the agreement and the actual steps needed to achieve meaningful emissions reductions is still pretty vast. Current pledges set the world on a path for a 3 degree Celsius temperature increase, which would mean significant drops in food production, less water availability, more urban heat waves, and more wildfires, among other things.
To close the gap, countries need to immediately step up their emissions reduction goals across their entire economy, from transportation and agriculture to energy and manufacturing. The good news is that, as detailed above, some countries are starting to do just that.
But the bad news is that some of the world’s biggest carbon emitters still aren’t entirely on board with the changes needed to achieve the emissions reduction goals set by the Paris agreement.
The United States, for instance, has almost completely abdicated both global and domestic climate action. The Environmental Protection Agency is working on repealing the Clean Power Plan, which would have set emissions limits on power plants, while the Department of the Interior is looking to open up vast parts of federal and offshore land to fossil fuel extraction.
Other countries also have some serious problems to tackle before they can achieve their Paris goals. In Brazil, deforestation has been increasing — a serious issue for a country that aims to achieve much of its emissions reduction goals through forest management. And in Germany, a new government coalition has considered dropping the country’s climate goal for 2020, calling it unrealistic — though Chancellor Angela Merkel has regularly reiterated the country’s commitment to climate action.
Perhaps even more concerning is recent news out of China — the world’s largest carbon emitter — showing that the country’s emissions have actually steadily increased in the last year. Some analysts have suggested that this year, the country’s carbon emissions could rise by as much as five percent, the largest increase in seven years.
Which isn’t to say that we are completely and totally doomed — just that with every piece of good news, it’s important to maintain perspective that climate change is a global issue that will require massive engagement from every country in the world. Your move, America.