‘Window of opportunity’ remains to tackle climate crisis as U.S. exits Paris deal: expert


As Americans await the results of Tuesday’s federal election, experts say the U.S. needs a president that will not only bring the country back into the Paris climate agreement, but step up the country’s commitments to address climate change.

“Everything is at stake here,” said Michael Mann, a climate scientist and distinguished professor of atmospheric science at Pennsylvania State University.

“But there’s still a window of opportunity. There’s still time to do what’s necessary to reduce carbon emissions so that we don’t cross that threshold into catastrophic climate change.”

On Wednesday, the United States officially withdrew from the Paris Agreement, a pact between 197 countries to fight climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming. Countries are aiming to keep global temperature increases below 1.5 C this century.

U.S. President Donald Trump announced plans to withdraw from the pact back in 2017, arguing it would undermine the country’s economy, but he was unable to do so until now because of requirements under the agreement.

Mann told The Current‘s Matt Galloway that the United States and other countries will have to go “well beyond” the Paris deal to achieve the emissions reductions the world needs.

Michael Mann is a climate scientist and distinguished professor of atmospheric science at Pennsylvania State University. (Joshua Yospyn)

And Jessica Green agrees.

“The Paris Agreement is not going to save us,” said the University of Toronto political science professor, who specializes in international climate policy.

However, if Democratic candidate Joe Biden wins the presidency, she believes some of his climate plans could be a step in the right direction.

If elected, Biden has promised to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, and on Wednesday he tweeted that he would rejoin the Paris Agreement within 77 days.

“It is in some ways important for the U.S. to send that signal, and especially to repair so much of the damage that the Trump administration has done,” said Green. “But at the same time, the design of the Paris Agreement is such that success doesn’t necessarily depend on the U.S. 

“Every country gets to decide what it is going to do.”

Unfortunately, said Mann, the U.S.’s withdrawal has in part, given some countries the green light to backstep on their own commitments under the Paris deal.

Jessica Green is a professor in the department of political science at the University of Toronto. (Nick Iwanyshyn/University of Toronto)

“China, for example, which had been actually decommissioning coal-fired power plants and was going well beyond its Paris commitments, sort of started to ease off,” he said. 

“That’s why leadership here in the United States is so important.”

Elan Strait, director of U.S. climate campaigns with the World Wildlife Fund, said that by withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, the U.S. also signalled that it doesn’t care about holding other countries like China accountable for their environmental regulations

“Also, there’s a multi-trillion-dollar market that is being created right now for clean energy, and the U.S. is in danger of being completely left behind,” Strait added.

An ‘existential crisis’ 

Strait said the U.S. needs to make climate change a “complete prioritization” throughout its foreign policy portfolio if it wants to make inroads.

While he doesn’t think there is currently the political will to take an aggressive approach on the issue, that could change if the U.S. were to re-enter the Paris Agreement, he said.

Elan Strait is the director of U.S. climate campaigns with the World Wildlife Fund. (Submitted by Elan Strait)

That aggressive approach is exactly what Green said is needed.

Every year, the UN releases a report that highlights the gap between current global temperature increases and the Paris Agreement pledge to keep global warming to less than 1.5 degrees.

“And every year that gap gets larger,” said Green.

“This is an existential crisis, and an existential crisis requires existential politics.”


Written by Kirsten Fenn, with files from CBC News. Produced by Lindsay Rempel.



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