We lost four years, knowing we were already behind schedule. Fortunately, the dark parenthesis opened by American voters in 2016 – or rather, a minority of them – has been closed before it was too late, after the presumed breath of fresh air (disguised as a protest vote) turned into a tornado wreaking havoc from the White House.
However, the wounds that soon-to-be former US President Donald Trumphas inflicted on his own country and the rest of the world are many, and remain wide open. The most significant being his decision to abandon the Paris Agreement, the first international treaty mobilising the entire global community in the fight against the climate crisis. The withdrawal was announced in 2017, but became official on the 4th of November three years later, only a few days prior to the fifth anniversary of the treaty’s adoption on the 12th of December 2015 during the COP21 UN climate conference in Paris, France.
Wounds, as mentioned, that will be difficult to heal. Not because of president-elect Joe Biden‘s views on climate change which we know are “right”, but rather for the time lost in tackling the emergency. A crisis already in motion and that needs immediate and widespread action. It is no coincidence that many Americans, especially younger ones, decided to vote for Biden – making him the presidential candidate to have received the most votes, nearly 80 million, in US history – and in particular for his climate action plan, the only one deemed “acceptable” out of those put forward by White House hopefuls. And perhaps they did the right thing, judging by Biden’s tweet on the 5th of November: “Today, the Trump administration officially left the Paris Climate Agreement. And in exactly 77 days, a Biden administration will rejoin it”.
Today, the Trump Administration officially left the Paris Climate Agreement. And in exactly 77 days, a Biden Administration will rejoin it. https://t.co/L8UJimS6v2
Nothing revolutionary, we’re talking about the basics here, the ABCs. But in these times of climate illiteracy in the US, we should rejoice over such small victories. Moreover, some of the same young people and organisations such as the Sunrise Movement who voted for Biden had criticised him during the Democratic primaries for his moderate stance on the issue compared to other contenders such as Bernie Sanders and Elisabeth Warren.
The US, we ought to remember, is responsible for almost 15 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions entering the atmosphere every year, and this fact on its own is enough to explain how fundamental this country’s contribution is to building a sustainable future for the international community. Not only, the United States is also one of the largest and most influential economies in the world and has the power to persuade and urge others, not always so kindly, to follow suit.
Setting the example
The fact that it remains a global economic power, despite the odds, it is in part due to the past burning of fossil fuels (which is still ongoing) as if there were no tomorrow and as if there were no future. The US is one of the main countries responsible for historic emissions, which have brought current temperatures one degree Centigrade above the average.
Because of this, Washington’s inaction in the past years weighs heavily, having further contributed to an unjustifiable delay. The Paris goal is to keep global average temperature rise well below two degrees: we should be aiming for around one and a half degrees, according to scientists. Maybe we won’t make it, maybe we’re too late, but we still have to try with all the means at our disposal. Young people and movements such as Fridays for Future and Extinction Rebellion have taken to the streets (and gone online) demanding that the climate crisis to be seen for what it is: a global emergency to be tackled by everyone and immediately. Exactly with the same force employed against the coronavirus.
Now we all agree, on the climate
A parenthesis that made us lose precious time has been closed. We now must take this opportunity to start a novel chapter and write a new ending to a story that begun thirty years ago. It has never happened and will never happen again that all the major world powers are so clearly focused on the same goal. Let’s seize the moment, and cut down on emissions.