Nations Wavering In Their Efforts To Address Climate Change


The Syrian Arab Republic has signed the Paris Climate Accord, or Paris Agreement, announcing their commitment to the multilateral agreement at the COP 23 UN climate summit. In doing so, Syria has left the United States as the only nation state not participating in the treaty. The Paris Accord was initiated and signed by 200 member states in December 2015, with the principal objective of significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, and ensuring global temperatures do not increase by more than two degrees Celsius. Within the negotiated frameworks of the agreement, each country determines and reports its domestic contributions to achieve the universal targets of the agreement. Under the administration of former President Barack Obama, the United States was one of the first nations to sign the agreement. However, his executive decision indicated the non-legally binding nature of their membership. President Donald Trump subsequently pulled out of the agreement earlier this year on 1 June, and consequently faced mass criticism from all angles in the international community. With 195 active member states, it is the largest climate agreement established to date. Established under the guidelines of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the world’s most influential international climate organization, the implications of the U.S.’ withdrawal should be recognised, as it demonstrates a lack of collaboration and cohesion with the international community on an exceptional global issue.

While the Syrian Arab Republic has been praised for its late but critical membership, other nations reluctant to take part in the agreement should acknowledge the importance of  climate change and its very real consequences. Undoubtedly, Syria and fellow latecomer Nigeria are battling countless issues within their civil domain. However, the severity and proximity of global warming is constantly being placed second to these conflicts. The United States and their decision to rescind its membership in the agreement devalues any achievements of cooperation established by the Paris Climate Accord. Ultimately, their status in the international system influences the actions of their less powerful counterparts.

President Donald Trump attempted to justify his motive for withdrawing from the agreement, stating “the bottom line is that the Paris Accord is very unfair at the highest level to the United States.” While he did not specify the following in his statement, the coal industry employed 76,572 American citizens in 2014. The prospect of these workers becoming unemployed and the ensuing backlash by that community to the agreement is evidently more important to the Trump administration than cooperating with international bodies to meet carbon emission requirements. What the Trump administration, alongside many other government bodies, fail to realise, is action on climate change is consistently being delayed, and the prioritization of this very immediate issue is essential. The Trump administration filed a formal notice with the United Nations in August that it would be leaving the deal “as soon as it is eligible to do so.” According to the agreement’s parameters, the earliest that the U.S. can leave the agreement is Nov. 4, 2020, effectively leaving three years in which the U.S. could potentially achieve its emission reduction targets.

Bureaucratically speaking, the nature of the climate agreement is weak. Falling under the framework of the United Nations, there are no legally binding parameters to the agreement, nor are there economic repercussions or incentives for member states to comply with the agreement and achieve their assigned carbon emission reductions. This is critical, as economic prosperity and growth appears to be the biggest reason why most states are reluctant in making efforts to prevent climate change. Numerous governmental organizations are hesitant to allocate the funds necessary to address the serious threat of climate change, given the necessity of this money in other sectors of their respective economies. Again, what these bodies fail to acknowledge is that investments in any of sectors, such as employment, education and health, will be rendered futile in the midst of climate change and its perpetuation of natural disasters and catastrophes.

While the principal objective of the Paris Climate Accord is to reduce carbon emissions and in turn decrease global temperatures, national and international efforts should also place emphasis on developing efficient and effective replacements for coal as the primary source of energy, which evidently contributes to climate change. The core issue with burning coal to produce energy is that carbon dioxide is released into the environment upon its burning. This in turn is trapped in the atmosphere, and results in hotter atmospheric temperatures, which is referred to as the ‘greenhouse effect.’ Many organizations including the CSIRO, NASA and the UN have warned of the dangerous consequences of this effect. In the last decade, carbon dioxide emissions have increased by approximately nine billion metric tons. Despite extensive research it is clear that global authorities are still dismissing this critical phenomenon and the consequences it will incur. Mechanisms such as solar, wind, and hydro energy have all been researched and proven to be cleaner alternatives to fossil fuel burning, however, the vast majority of the world still relies on coal as their main source of energy.

Warmer temperatures will lead to more evaporation resulting in drought epidemics globally, and a failure to harvest and produce crops. A stronger greenhouse effect will warm the oceans and partially melt glaciers and other ice, consequently increasing sea levels. Globally, sea levels have risen by an average of over 20 centimetres since the late 19th century, of which almost one third is due to ocean warming and the rest from melting land ice and changes in the amount of water stored on the land.  Furthermore, 2015 was the warmest year on record for the globe since reliable global surface air temperature records began in 1880.

The last 15 years are among the warmest years on record. Thus, it is noticeable as to how agreements such as the Paris Climate Accord are paramount to dealing with the issue of climate change. Countries leading the way in utilizing effective and proportionate levels of sustainable energy, including Sweden and Finland, should be recognized for their exemplary work on combatting climate change, and should inspire their fellow nation states to do the same. Furthermore, efforts to introduce legally binding frameworks on climate change should be initiated, in order to ensure nations comply with the implementation and usage of sustainable energy resources. This is imperative, as ultimately, the dire environmental conditions created global warming today will not be sufficiently resolved in the near future without such action.

Sulithi Dewendra

Sulithi Dewendra is a third year International and Global Studies student at the University of Sydney majoring in Government and International Relations.She is particularly intrigued by conflict resolution in the Middle Eastern region. She is currently a correspondent at the OWP.

About Sulithi Dewendra

Sulithi Dewendra is a third year International and Global Studies student at the University of Sydney majoring in Government and International Relations. She is particularly intrigued by conflict resolution in the Middle Eastern region. She is currently a correspondent at the OWP.