The Paris Agreement represents the global community’s best shot at averting the worldwide crisis of climate change. Signed by nearly every country, it aims to limit global temperature rise to “well below'' a cataclysmic 2°C (3.6°F) above preindustrial levels, and preferably below 1.5°C (2.7°F).
And now the US is back in, just over four years after Donald Trump declared his intention to abandon it. Starting the month-long process of rejoining the Paris Agreement was a Day-One priority for the Biden administration. It signaled to the country and the international community that the US is ready to take the lead on tackling one of the greatest challenges humanity faces—climate change.
It’s an important first step. But to meet the Paris Agreement’s goal of preventing climate catastrophe, the Biden administration will have to take ambitious climate action here at home, and inspire and enable other countries to do the same. Because the Trump administration abandoned any efforts to tackle the climate crisis, the Biden administration has a lot of work to do just to rebuild the US’s credibility.
It should start by closing the gap between our previous commitments and what’s needed to avert climate crisis. Since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015, it’s become even clearer that we must limit warming to 1.5°C (2.7°F) above preindustrial levels, not two degrees. We’ve seen that one degree Celsius (1.8°F) of warming has already intensified extreme storms and fires, claiming lives, homes, and sometimes entire communities. The 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report confirmed that allowing warming to exceed 1.5°C simply poses too great of a risk to the places we love.
Limiting warming to 1.5°C will require the US to slash emissions more quickly than it has ever committed to doing before. The Biden administration should create its climate plans with the aim of reducing emissions to net-zero by no later than 2050, and to at least 50 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. That means it must rapidly move toward fulfilling its campaign promise of making our electricity sector carbon-free by 2035, and put us on a path to phasing out fossil fuels completely by 2050, while ensuring a just transition for affected workers, and creating good-paying jobs in clean energy, clean transportation, and protecting and restoring our natural carbon sinks.
The US should use the good credit it builds as leverage on the international stage to inspire more ambitious action from the other major contributors to the climate crisis. They, too, must rapidly ratchet up their commitments under the Paris Agreement to put us on course to avert the worst impacts of climate change, and we expect they will come to Biden’s Global Leadership Summit this April ready to do so. We have a wide range of diplomatic and economic tools we can use as carrots and sticks; if the Biden administration wants to show it’s serious about tackling climate change internationally, it will use them.
Lastly, the US must meet its obligations to the countries that have contributed the least to the climate crisis but are being harmed first and worst. We are the largest historical contributor to climate change. It is only right that we support countries that have been made vulnerable to climate disasters by poverty and a legacy of colonialism. We must fulfill our commitments to contribute to the UN’s Green Climate Fund, which funds green development and rebuilding efforts in the aftermath of storms supercharged by climate change.
Rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement is an essential first step to reestablish the US as part of the global community committed to tackling the climate crisis. But agreements get their force from being translated into policies, practices, and safeguards. We’ll keep working with the Biden administration to ensure that their commitments are translated into action quickly enough to protect our homes, families, and communities from climate catastrophe.