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US starts exit from Paris climate accord

November 5, 2019

Washington has formally launched its withdrawal from the 2015 Paris climate accord after Donald Trump rejected it as harmful to the US economy. European leaders have expressed their dismay and made overtures to China.

The coal-fired Plant Scherer, one of the nation's top carbon dioxide emitters, stands in the distance in Juliette, Georgia
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/B. Camp

The US is set to become the first country to pull out of the landmark Paris climate accord, which aims to limit pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. On Monday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo submitted a formal notice to the United Nations to start the one-year withdrawal process.

"The US is proud of our record as a world leader in reducing all emissions, fostering resilience, growing our economy and ensuring energy for our citizens. Ours is a realistic and pragmatic model," Pompeo wrote on Twitter.

Reactions from Europe

The European Union said it was disappointed by the move.

"The withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Agreement means that the rest of us must further increase our cooperation," Krista Mikkonen, minister of environment for current European Council president Finland, said in a statement.

"We will continue to work with US states, cities and civil society in support of climate action."

German Development Minister Gerd Müller described the withdrawal as a step backwards: "Industrialized countries in particular, who are the main contributors to climate change, have a special responsibility and must act as role models," the minister said in Berlin.

Read moreUS businesses at odds with Trump over pullout from Paris accord

Trump withdraws from Paris climate accord

Speaking at a trade fair in China, French President Emmanuel Macron said countries had to enhance commitments to reduce emissions, and confirm new ones.

"The cooperation between China and the European Union in this respect is decisive," Macron said. "Next year, we need, in the agenda of enhancement, to be collectively up to the task."

An aide to Macron, who was with the president in China, said the US move was expected. 

"We regret this and this only makes the Franco-Chinese partnership on the climate and biodiversity more necessary," said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Macron and China's Xi Jinping are set to sign a document affirming the "irreversibility" of the Paris climate accord, the official added. The two presidents are due to hold a formal meeting in Beijing on Wednesday.

A 'dangerous decision'

Sven Harmeling of CARE Global Policy Climate Change and Resilience called the withdrawal a "dangerous decision," and called on other countries to stick to their commitments.  

"We see the impact of the climate crisis in the poorest and most vulnerable countries where CARE works," Harmeling told DW. 

"Globally, we need to step up the fight against climate change. We call on other countries, but also stakeholders in the US, whether cities, whether business, to not get distracted by the isolating step of the US administration but to step up the fight against climate change."

Undoing Obama's pledge

Virtually all UN nations, including the United States, endorsed the deal after it was agreed in the French capital in 2015. Under former President Barack Obama, the US government promised to cut 26-28% of its greenhouse gas emissions when compared with 2005 levels. This goal was set to be completed by 2025.

However, Obama's successor, Donald Trump, has repeatedly slammed the deal as harmful to the US economy and pledged to abandon it.

"What we won't do is punish the American people while enriching foreign polluters," Trump said at a shale gas industry conference in Pennsylvania last month.

Before running for office, Trump described global warming as a "hoax perpetrated by the Chinese."

Activists hope for change

Trump won the 2016 election just days after Washington ratified the deal in November 2016. However, the rules of the Paris climate accord forced the US to wait three years from the verification date before formally launching the withdrawal process.

The withdrawal process is set to be completed on November 4, 2020, one day after the next presidential election. A small US team would continue work on the deal's technical aspects until the process is finished.

Read more: In New York, global climate protesters plead for action

US environmental activists continue to hope that Trump will lose next year's election and be replaced by a Democratic candidate, all of whom have already pledged to keep the deal in place if they win.

"The next president will need to rejoin the accord immediately and commit to the rapid, wholesale clean-energy transformation the climate emergency demands," said Jean Su, energy director with the US-based Center for Biological Diversity.

"Trump can run from the Paris agreement, but he can't hide from the climate crisis," she said.

The US and China emit more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than any other country in the world.

dj/cmk (Reuters, AP)

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