The US is withdrawing from the Paris Agreement - what does it mean?


President Donald Trump has announced the retreat of the Paris Agreement and a wish to renegotiate the global agreement. Trump's decision has a political dimension and will not have an impact on Europe's energy strategy.

Facts review

  • The Paris Agreement allows Member States flexibility in the choice of emission reduction measures. National emission reduction strategies should be updated every 5 years. There are no hard commitments - only a willingness to cooperate. 
  • The United States has been at the forefront of global climate negotiations in recent years. Thanks to Barack Obama's involvement, an agreement was reached between China and the USA, between which for years there was a conflict over who would be the first to declare their willingness to cooperate.
  • Withdrawal from climate talks marginalises the United States and shifts the axis of the decision towards China and Europe, whose alliance may increase. Europe's influence and role in global negotiations will increase. This is also important because Poland will host the global climate summit in a year and a half.
  • The process of exiting the Paris Agreement will take from 3 to 4 years. The last decisions will be taken during the election of a new president.

Why did Trump decide to withdraw from the agreement? 

  • Trump promised new jobs in the mining industry during the election campaign. Currently 70,000 people work in the mining sector in the USA. In recent years, this number has fallen by 20,000. In comparison, 90,000 people work in the mining industry in Poland.
  • Donald Trump, unlike Barack Obama, is reluctant to deal with environmental and climate protection issues. 
  • The contribution of the United States to the Green Climate Fund is also a thorn  in their flesh. This is a fund, to which Poland has contributed. We could be its beneficiary. The United States does not want to meet its commitment to raise 2 billion dollars. 

What are the facts? 

  • More than 2 million people work in the U.S. energy sector as a whole, and employment increased by 13% in the last year only. Employment in the RES sector is growing the fastest. Only 350,000 people work in the solar energy sector. 
  • Energy production from coal in the United States has decreased in recent years by about 50%, mainly due to an increase in the use of gas (shale gas). Flexible gas-fired power plants are more competitive than coal-fired units. The global use of coal is also declining slowly, which lowers the prices of this raw material and leads to the closure of the least efficient mines. 
  • In the U.S. energy mix about 30% of the energy comes from coal and its share is decreasing. About 33% from gas, 19% from atom. The rest comes from renewable sources. 
  • In recent years, according to the Edison Electric Institute in Washington DC, CO2 emissions in the USA have fallen by nearly 25% below 2005 levels.
  • The energy revolution in the United States, which began about 10 years ago, is driven by the growing use of shale gas, falling RES costs, energy efficiency policy and innovation. 

What does Trump's decision mean for Poland?

Trump's decision will not have a major impact on the energy sector in the United States. This is changing thanks to shale gas and a reduction in the cost of producing energy from renewable sources - e.g. solar energy has recently been reduced by 80%. It will not have a direct impact on decisions in Europe, because emission reduction strategies are part of the economic strategy and independence from the supply of energy resources. However, this is the wrong message for the world. Climate, international security and development cooperation are areas where the United States is becoming a chimeric and unpredictable partner. Business, which has largely switched to low-emission technologies, will fall into many years of uncertainty, and such a radical change of direction will be in vain. The most important energy regulations in the United States are developed at the level of individual states. None of the countries of the Climate Convention will renegotiate the Paris Agreement - six months after its entry into force. 

In a year and a half Poland will host the UN global climate summit. Although sometimes Warsaw is closer to Washington than Brussels in climate policy, the Paris Agreement is neutral and could build Poland's position as a country capable of reconnecting the United States and Europe. 

Author: Dr Joanna Maćkowiak-Pandera
Date of publication: 2 June 2017