U.S. Leadership and COP 21

Photo by Moyan Brenn/CC By 2.0


Nelly Mendoza | May 2016


The following is one of the opening statements of the Conference of the Parties 21(COP.21) Framework Convention for Climate Change Draft decision.

“Recognizing that climate change represents an urgent and potentially irreversible threat to human societies and the planet and thus requires the widest possible cooperation by all countries, and their participation in an effective and appropriate international response, with a view to accelerating the reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions.”

This statement represents the conference’s main goals; to incentive cooperation between all rational nations: something that’s easy to say but very difficult to achieve in a world where we all nations have different priorities.

Last December in Paris, France, 196 countries including China and the United States agreed to certain measures to reduce C02 emissions to reduce the effects of global warming.

The agreement is well constructed and covers much of what was expected from the agreeing Parties. However, it is a vague thirty-one-page document and leaves many gray areas in the twenty- nine articles that it sets; by using words such as Invites, Urges, Requests, Reiterates in the beginning of every paragraph in the Draft decision making it clear that this agreement is non binding. But, this agreement is better than nothing and now in the second stage of the agreement. The 188 participants now have the task to design a transparent, understandable, and detailed plan on what they will do to follow the plan of the COP.21 or default.

As of today 177 countries have already signed the agreement, including the United States, China, Canada, and India. The countries that have not yet signed have until April 2017 to default or sign.

The terms of negotiation have been set, but the adoption and implementation of a plan is yet to happen. The inevitable fear is that some nations will default on COP.21 as this agreement is voluntary and the involved parties can drop out at any time. We can’t know that any country is following the rules and not just taking advantage of the good intentions of the others.

This is the biggest weakness of the COP.21; since there is no central world authority or an international court of law there is no one to penalize any deal breakers other than name shaming.

The security dilemma and the suspicions of cheating will always be present, but solving global warming is far more daunting and important than catching cheaters, and therefore must take priority over lesser concerns.

Thus, the involvement of the United States, as a major world power and owner of much social capital wealth, is vital for COP.21 to succeed.

If the United States decides to default on the agreement at any time, it will set a negative trend among other nations as it would reduce their incentives to act on the deal. If the U.S. defaults, other nations are unlikely to comply, especially China and India, two major rising polluters, that might fear that an agreement such as COP.21 will be too much of a burden and might lead to economic slowdown.

In order for the U.S. to become a successful leader in implementing COP.21, the it needs to do the following:

  • Set strict carbon pricing at home and heavy taxing for imports from nations such as China or Canada if such nations violate any parts of the COP.21. The most effective way to encourage private parties at home to increase development of renewable energy infrastructure is to raise their taxes or alleviate taxes depending on what measures they are or are not taking to move to zero carbon emissions,
  • Agree to eliminate a majority of carbon emissions in a timely matter, thus sending a message to other nations that we are really committed to helping reach the goal of “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C”, (United Nations) as it was agreed on the COP.21,
  • Encourage other Parties and domestic industries and groups to actively take part in the development of better technologies and social movements to encourage consumers to demand energy providers the development of renewable energy and reduced dependency on coal and to raise awareness of the effects of climate change,

If the U.S. fails to abide and make COP.21 a real deal and not yet another block of promises, we can count on another failed agreement, reminiscent of the Kyoto Protocol.

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