US isolated as Syria signs the Paris Agreement

The US, the world's second largest emitter, is "out in the cold" as the only nation outside of the Paris Agreement on climate change, after Syria became the latest and last signatory to the global accord.

Syria decided to join the Paris Agreement on Tuesday evening (7 November), bringing total signatories of the global agreement to limit global warming to well below two degrees to 197. The unexpected move could leave the US as the only nation outside of the agreement, providing it goes ahead with President Trump’s wish to withdraw.

The World Resources Institute’s global director of climate programme Paula Caballero told reporters: “Now the entire world is resolutely committed to advancing climate action – all save one country. This should make the Trump administration pause and reflect on their ill-advised announcement about withdrawing from the Paris agreement.”

The US is one of the 169 parties that have ratified the Paris Agreement, meaning that the country provided the necessary legal framework to officially join the accord. However, Trump’s withdrawal speech in June 2017 claimed that the US will “cease all implementation of the non-binding Paris Accord”. This also covers the implementation of the country’s national determined contribution (NDC).

The US’ withdrawal process will actually take three more years to become official. Under UN rules, the US will remain a part of the accord until 4 November 2020, one day after the next presidential election.

Syria couldn’t sign the deal originally as it has been occupied by a civil war that started in 2011. As the Syrian Government had been placed under European and US sanctions, representatives couldn’t travel abroad to sign the agreement.

Nicaragua only recently signed the Paris Agreement as well. The nation claimed the goals weren’t ambitious enough – a notion that has been proved by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) – but since reversed those calls last month.

‘Playground bully’

US representatives have still travelled to the latest round of climate negotiations in Bonn for COP23, although the White House confirmed that US delegates will endorse coal, natural gas and nuclear energy as a solution to climate change at a presentation.

Fortunately, many US states and businesses have moved to champion the Paris Agreement in Trump’s absence. The We Are Still In coalition of more than 900 companies has thrown its weight behind the global accord, while California – one of the many states setting its own emissions reduction and clean energy goals – is currently discussing ways to link its carbon market to the European Union’s.

Commenting on Syria’s decision, Christian Aid’s climate lead Mohamed Adow added: “The fact that Syria is to ratify the Paris Agreement means it is now just one country, America, that is out in the cold on climate change.

“Like the playground bully that eventually loses all his friends, Donald Trump has isolated himself on the world stage. When even Syria, with all its problems, can see the sense of a global climate agreement it really shows how ideologically wedded to climate denialism the US Republican Party has become.”

Matt Mace

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