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Persuade, don't vilify the US on climate change

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

You won't find us lambasting the United States Administration for deciding to withdraw from the Paris Climate Change Accord in keeping with the announcement yesterday that they would begin the formal process of pulling out of the global pact.

We accept that every country, including Jamaica, has the right to decide what is in its best interest. US President Donald Trump campaigned and won on the basis that the climate change agreement was “an unfair economic burden” on the US.

What we hope for is that the US will find common ground with the rest of the world in concluding that climate change is a real and imminent threat to the survival of our planet as we know it.

We take the simple position that we are better off as a world if we take steps to mitigate climate change than if we were to dismiss the whole thing as a hoax. By not accepting the premise of climate change, we don't give ourselves the opportunity to fix the problems besetting the Earth's environment.

The US, and those who reserve their right not to accept the premise, should ask themselves: What if climate change is real? At the same time, we believe that the rest of the global community should respect the position of the US and continue to seek to convince and persuade them rather than vilify them.

The US is held to be the second biggest climate polluter after China, and, as the world's largest economy, its absence from the pact will hurt efforts to fight global warming. The agreement sets goals of preventing another 0.5 degrees (Celsius) to one degree of warming from current levels. Even the pledges made in 2015 weren't enough to prevent those levels of warming.

The deal calls for nations to come up with more ambitious pollution cuts every five years, starting in November 2020 at a meeting in Scotland. Climate change, caused by the burning of coal, oil, and gas, has already warmed the world by one degree (Celsius) since the late 1800s, caused massive melting of ice globally, triggered weather extremes, and changed ocean chemistry.

And leading scientists say, depending on how much carbon dioxide is emitted, it will only get worse by the end of the century with temperatures jumping by several degrees and oceans rising by close to three feet (one meter).

Fortunately, the withdrawal process has certain built-in steps that allow time to reflect and to change minds about tearing up the landmark 2015 climate change agreement spearheaded by the United Nations.

The process takes a year and wouldn't become official until, in the case of the US, at least the day after the 2020 presidential election. In the Paris agreement which came into effect on November 4, 2016 – the day of the last US elections — nearly 200 countries set their own national targets for reducing or controlling pollution of heat-trapping gases.

If the US president changes his mind, or someone else is elected in 2020, the next commander-in-chief could get back in the deal in just 30 days and plan to cut carbon pollution.

Otherwise, someone else, probably the biggest polluter China, would have to take over leadership in the global fight.