The Eric Factor: What it means if the President abandons the climate accord

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ABC News reports that while no decision is final until the president announces it, the White House is working on how to roll out and explain the reasons why the United States will no longer participate in the Paris Climate Accord.

First, what is it exactly? The agreement brings all nations into a common cause to undertake efforts to combat climate change and adapt to its effects.


It’s not an agreement signed by just a few countries. Rather, 175 of the world’s largest and smallest countries ratified the agreement on Earth Day 2016, including the United States, China, and Russia.

According to the United Nations, The Paris Agreement’s central aim is to “strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Additionally, the agreement aims to strengthen the ability of countries to deal with the impacts of climate change. To reach these ambitious goals, appropriate financial flows, a new technology framework and an enhanced capacity building framework will be put in place, thus supporting action by developing countries and the most vulnerable countries, in line with their own national objectives. The Agreement also provides for enhanced transparency of action and support through a more robust transparency framework.”

As a scientist who studies weather and climate every day, I think it’s important to note that while this is an international agreement, there is no judge to impose any punishment or sanctions if any country decides not to participate. So it’s not like any country will be penalized by not abiding.

The upcoming announcement has a bigger effect because the United States is the world’s leading superpower and other countries are looking directly to us to set the example. It tells other countries that climate change is no longer a big deal anymore. But even if that’s what is perceived, the actions by our country (or any other country for that matter), don’t change the fact that the science of climate change is real. And our great country is moving forward with solid momentum when it comes to clean energy. That’s why the decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Accord is more symbolic than substantive in my opinion.

The real negative is when our government relaxes regulations on polluting industries. It is my belief we should live today cleaner and more responsibly than we did yesterday.
For obvious reasons, we have only two ways to reverse the effect of natural and human-induced global warming.

1. Clean up our act now. The Paris Climate Accord is just one symbolic way of saying that collectively we can change our course. But changing course is like turning around the Titanic. One person can’t paddle around the iceberg; together we have to do it. This morning we need to figure out if the world can do it without the United States.

2. Wait for technology to fix the problem. This is the only other way forward. Without changing our current course, we will observe an increasing frequency of high-impact weather events and rising seas. By the end of the 21st Century, we will have to adapt and hope to have enough technology to fix the bigger climate problem. However if we wait too long, we may have to endure ramifications that jeopardize millions of people and entire economies.

Admittedly, even though I’ve studied weather and climate for the majority of my lifetime, I know a lot less about the economy and the end result our administration is hoping for. While I’m disappointed the United States will no longer be the symbolic leader in clean technology and healing our planet, we still have some of the smartest people on Earth studying the science of climate change and how to combat it.

And I guess, Russia and China are still on board.

-Meteorologist Eric Sorensen

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