The Fate of the Paris Agreement and the Future of Global Warming

By Brad Bourne

For the past decade, global warming has been at the forefront of political debate, in the United States and abroad. Global warming, of course, generally refers to the phenomenon in which “[o]ver the past 50 years, the average global temperature has increased at the fastest rate in recorded history.”[1] Caused by the accumulation of carbon dioxide and other pollutants in the Earth’s atmosphere, empirical research suggests that global warming will cause extreme weather conditions, melting glaciers, coastal flooding, and, ultimately, disruption of natural habitats.[2] As a result, governments around the world—including the government of the United States—have instituted domestic policies and ratified treaties in an attempt to mitigate the potential threats posed by global warming.         

In the United States, for example, the Clean Air Act was enacted by Congress in an attempt to control national carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions.[3] The Clean Air Act, moreover, is enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)—an administrative agency dedicated to the protection of human health and the environment through rules and regulations.[4] Simply put, the United States—and other similarly situated countries—have implement domestic policies to combat the harmful effects of global warming. Such policies, moreover, are not strictly limited to domestic rules like those implemented in the United States. Since 1997, representatives, diplomats, and ambassadors have met through to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to discuss pressing issues and propose actions to address these issues.[5] Ratified in March of 1994, the ultimate aim of the UNFCCC is to “prevent[] ‘dangerous’ human interference with the climate system.”[6] On October 5, 2016, 125 parties ratified the Paris Agreement—a treaty which “brings all nations into a common cause to undertake . . . ambitious efforts to combat climate change and adapt to its effects, with enhanced support to assist developing countries to do so.”[7] More specifically, the goal of the Paris Agreement is to “strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.”[8] Finally, the Paris Agreement maintains that the ratifying parties “put forward their best efforts through ‘nationally determined contributions’ (NDCs) and to strengthen these efforts in the years ahead,” and to “report regularly on their emissions and on their implementation efforts.”[9]

The Paris Agreement, generally speaking, was positively received: some news outlets hailed the Agreement as “the world’s greatest diplomatic success,”[10] while approximately 71% of American citizens support the Paris Agreement.[11] Despite this positive reception, the future of the Paris Agreement—and climate change more generally—is still in jeopardy. Leading up to the U.S. Presidential Election, then-Presidential candidate Donald Trump generated some concern from supporters of the Paris Agreement when he said that he would “cancel” the Agreement.[12] After winning the presidential election, however, Trump asserted that “he was keeping an open mind on whether to pull out of [the Paris Agreement].”[13] On the day of his inauguration, finally, Trump once again generated concern from supporters of the Agreement when references to climate change were removed from the White House website.[14] Simply put, the United States’ policy on climate change, and its stance in regards to the Paris Agreement, are somewhat ambiguous.

If, in fact, the United States decides to withdraw from the Agreement, there could, of course, be serious consequences. In addition to the fact that the United States has a large population and generates a lot of pollution,[15] its withdrawal from the Agreement could encourage other signatories to withdrawal as well. As a result, the checks and balances system that the Agreement implemented would be futile, and increases in global air pollution could realistically take place. While it is uncertain what the actual consequences of such a withdrawal would be, parties to the Agreement will closely monitor whether the United States continues to act in accordance with the Agreement, and whether it considers climate change to be a serious issue.

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[1] Amanda MacMillan, Global Warming 101, Nat. Resources Def. Council (Mar. 11, 2016),

[2] Id.

[3] See generally Clean Air Act, 42 U.S.C. § 7401.

[4] See About EPA, Envtl. Protection Agency, (last updated Jan. 21, 2017).

[5] Meetings, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, (last visited Jan. 22, 2017).

[6] First Steps to a Safer Future: Introducing the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, (last visited Jan. 21, 2017).

[7] The Paris Agreement, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, (last visited Jan. 20, 2017).

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Fiona Harvey, Paris Climate Change Agreement: The World’s Greatest Diplomatic Success, Guardian (Dec. 14, 2015),

[11] Chris Mooney, Trump Wants to Dump the Paris Climate Deal, But 71 Percent of Americans Support It, Survey Finds, N.Y. Times (Nov. 21, 2016),

[12] Donald Trump Would “Cancel” Paris Climate Deal, BBC News (May 27, 2016),

[13] Trump Says He’s Keeping an “Open Mind” on Pulling Out of Paris Climate Accord, Fortune (Nov. 23, 2016, 6:16 AM),

[14] Coral Davenport, With Trump in Charge, Climate Change References Purged from Website, N.Y. Times (Jan. 20, 2017),

[15] Michael Roppolo, Air Pollution Dangerously High for Almost Half of U.S., Report Finds, CBS News (Apr. 30, 2014, 6:18 PM),