President Donald Trump has confirmed that he will pull the US out of the historic Paris Climate Agreement, striking a potentially critical blow to Africa’s battle against climate change.
In a major speech on Thursday, Trump defied the opinion of his allies and the wider international community by sticking to his election pledge to pull the US out of the agreement, which he says unfairly penalises the US economy by imposing onerous emissions targets on industry.
The decision was greeted with dismay in Africa, a continent which is uniquely vulnerable to the worst effects of climate change yet contributes little to global pollution levels. The pledge to limit global temperature rises to no more than 2°C by 2100, signed by almost 200 countries at the Cop21 meeting in 2015, was hailed as a game-changer by African politicians and climate activists who argue that the continent’s economic future rests on its successful implementation. The government of South Africa upheld its support for the deal and condemned Trump’s decision.
“The Paris Agreement represents the most flexible and dynamic approach to addressing climate change, and the withdrawal of the USA is not only an abdication of global responsibility we all have to humankind, but damaging to multilateralism, the rule of law and trust between nations,” said a statement from South Africa’s Department of Environmental Affairs.
Africa is expected to warm up to 1.5 times faster than the global average, according to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, while scientists estimate that the continent’s annual GDP loss as a result of a global rise in temperatures could range from 1.5% to 3% by 2030. Yet prominent Africans insisted that the continent will continue with its efforts to combat climate change.
“A very sad day for global cooperation. Trump’s decision on climate change comes from a truly misinformed position. The rest of the world will forge on with the Paris agreement…the US has just abdicated its leadership on a matter of critical global importance,” said John Dramani Mahama, former president of Ghana.
There are signs that other countries will attempt to uphold the deal amid profound disquiet with the US decision. The African Union and the European Union released a joint statement reaffirming their commitment to the deal and calling for renewed momentum by signatory countries. Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang – representing the world’s largest emitter – will hold talks with his European counterparts on Friday to scout a way forwards, with the two sides expected to sign a joint statement reasserting their support for the process and promising $100bn a year in climate finance for poorer countries by 2020.
Yet the non-participation of the United States, which contributes around 14% of the world’s carbon emissions, could still derail any effective implementation of the deal. The signing of the agreement by President Barack Obama was viewed as the historic culmination of a decades-long diplomatic battle to convince the United States, China and other major emitters to sign up to emissions targets, following the high-profile failures of talks at Kyoto and Copenhagen.
Since 2015, African negotiators have lobbied hard for a strict implementation of the deal, including binding temperature limits and increased financial transfers from the rich world to the developing world to mitigate the worst effects of climate change, which could include desertification, drought and crop destruction.
Even before Trump’s dramatic policy reversal, campaigners insisted that too little finance was being made available to African countries struggling to adapt to climate change.