Bad weather or sunny days for the American climate?

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Four years of Donald Trump have already thwarted efforts against global warming, but his possible re-election could dampen hopes of avoiding the most devastating impacts of climate change, fear the defenders of the planet.

On June 1, 2017, the brand new American president puts his campaign promise into action: he creates a shock wave by announcing the withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Agreement, which aims to limit warming below + 2 ° C , ideally 1.5 ° C, compared to the pre-industrial era.

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The president has since revoked or relaxed a host of environmental standards on light bulbs or car emissions, and the Obama administration’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets are a thing of the past.

At the time, “I said he was a threat to the planet (…). I underestimated how much! ”, Launches to AFP the climatologist Michael Mann, of Pennsylvania State University, who hopes – like all climate defenders – that his Democratic opponent Joe Biden will win.

The announced withdrawal from the Paris Agreement – which, coincidentally, will be effective on November 4, the day after the presidential election – has pushed the United States “from a leading position to the back of the pack,” continues -he.

Despite everything, the measures taken by various American states, large metropolises and many companies have partly made up for the lack of a climate policy at the federal level.

By taking into account the drop in emissions linked to the COVID-19 crisis, the United States could meet its old commitments under the Paris Agreement (26 to 28% reduction in emissions by 2025 compared to 2005), according to the Climate Action Tracker group.

But “if there is no new impetus, we will not be able to go very far,” worries Laurence Tubiana, architect of the Paris Agreement.

Thus, according to forecasts from America’s Pledge, which brings together thousands of non-federal entities, “with a proactive federal re-engagement in 2021” the United States could reduce its emissions by 49% by 2030 (compared to 2005) . But only 37% otherwise.

Beyond its own emissions, the world’s largest economy is also a key player in climate diplomacy, and even if no other country has followed the United States towards withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, their erasure left traces.

“Other major issuers saw this as a signal to limit their compliance with the Paris Agreement, saying to themselves’ if the second issuer does not respect it, why should I,” “laments Lois Young, who chairs the group of island states, on the front line in the face of climate change.

“There is no doubt the United States is needed in the climate fight. And the next four years, that’s almost half the time that we have, according to scientists, to change the trajectory of emissions, ”she told AFP.

The ambassador refers to the 2018 UN climate experts report (IPCC) which clearly states that in order not to exceed 1.5 ° C, emissions should be reduced by almost 50% by 2030, while The last few years have already seen spectacular floods, repeated heat waves or devastating fires, which ravaged the American West in particular this summer.

Signs of hope, however, for climate advocates, the shattering announcement in September by Chinese Prime Minister Xi Jinping, who has committed to carbon neutrality for the world’s largest emitter by 2060, and the European Commission’s proposal to raise the EU’s 2030 emission reduction target from 40% to 55% (compared to 1990).

“The steps taken by China and the EU show that the rest of the world is not going to let Donald Trump’s delirium destroy the climate and harm populations,” said Mohammed Adow, of the Power Shift Africa think tank.

Despite everything, during this election, “the stakes for the planet have never been so high”, insists the climate defender, who hopes for a Biden presidency which would revive Obama’s commitments, but “doped with steroids”.

Democratic candidate Joe Biden has pledged to return to the Paris Agreement and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, putting on the table a $ 2,000 billion plan over four years, in particular in favor of clean energy and low-carbon infrastructure.

But the implementation of these ambitions would not be its sole responsibility, notes Laurence Tubiana. “It will depend on its ability to pass a law” and therefore on a victory for the Democrats also in the Senate, with a Republican majority, she insists.

Otherwise, “I’m afraid the rest of the world will not take obligations to cut emissions in time seriously enough to avoid the worst impacts of climate change,” insists Michael Mann.

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