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Last week scientists revealed that two thirds of the Great Barrier Reef have been damaged by ‘unprecedented’ bleaching, a reaction caused by increasing sea temperatures. Bad news about the environment seems to be a constant in our newspapers these days. While actions like the 2016 Paris Agreement, which was hailed as a success after being signed by most countries, may incur a sense that the environment is in safe hands: such a sense of security is far from real.
The Paris agreement does signify an important moment in the fight against climate change as it represents an international effort to work to reducing CO2 emissions. But, what some see as its biggest failure, being a non-binding agreement, there is a danger country will not adhere to their pledges.
Brexit and Trump represent a change in the political landscape, and one that threatens those Paris pledges and the environment in general. Before he was elected, Donald Trump said he planned to “cancel the Paris Climate Agreement” and “stop all payments of US tax dollars to UN global warming program”. While this has not happened yet, he has elected a climate change denier as head of the EPA and signed executive orders that cut climate policies like the Clean Power Act. Similarly, Theresa May has removed the UK department of climate change and allowed fracking. These actions mark a worrying shift in policy that puts the climate action goals of the countries at risk.
The change of US and UK climate policy could have negative effects on international climate efforts. The US is the second largest CO2 polluter, so firstly a failure to focus on lowering this has serious implications for global efforts. Secondly, the US and UK have a norm making role to play at an international level. If for example, the US faults on its Paris pledges or removes itself from it, a president may be set and countries such as India may also fail their pledges.
Thus, these events mark a move in a dangerous direction for the environment. Especially at these times where the effects of climate change are far reaching, these countries should be focusing on green development strategies. In 2015 the EU reduced its carbon emissions by 10%. While, a complete shift to a renewable for many countries is unrealistic, with the Paris agreement for support countries like the US and the UK should be leading the way with renewable investment. China, while still the biggest polluter and by no means an example, is investing 292 billion dollars into renewable by 2020.