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The Trump administration has formally told the United Nations the U.S. is pulling out of the Paris climate agreement. The State Department sent a letter to the U.N. that said, basically, we don't want to be part of this deal anymore. There is a one-year waiting period before the withdrawal takes effect, and as NPR's Rebecca Hersher reports, today's action makes the U.S. a conspicuous outsider when it comes to dealing with global warming.
REBECCA HERSHER, BYLINE: The 2015 Paris Climate Agreement was designed to be easy to join and hard to leave. In fact, the United States spearheaded the effort to make sure that's how it was. Otherwise, who knows what could happen? Another country could have an election, get a new leader who wasn't so keen on the international agreement and poof - it would all start to fall apart. And since 2015, there has been a lot of political turmoil in countries like Brazil and India and Turkey and China and Japan. But the U.S. is the only country where the new people in power have decided to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. Andrew Light is a former top climate official in the State Department.
ANDREW LIGHT: That's one of the ironies of all this. Even though we're the ones who've been pointing to these potential scenarios for problems with other countries, we seem to be the biggest problem.
HERSHER: Light helped negotiate the Paris Agreement. It took years.
LIGHT: These agreements are just only as good as the commitments from each country.
HERSHER: The American commitment under the Paris Agreement is to reduce national greenhouse gas emissions by about a quarter compared to what they were in 2005. The U.S. is not on track to do that, in part because even though the formal withdrawal has just begun, President Trump began pulling back from the commitment more than two years ago in June 2017.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The United States will withdraw from the Paris climate accord.
HERSHER: In that speech, President Trump suggested that the Paris requirements to transition to cleaner energy sources and help other countries do the same would cost too much. Rachel Cleetus works on climate and energy policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists, an American advocacy group. She says they've got the math wrong. For one thing, you have to take into account the costs of more intense and frequent wildfires and other natural disasters.
RACHEL CLEETUS: What we can't afford is runaway climate change. Just look at California right now. Tell me that this is not an economic cost. In fact, the most expensive thing we can do is not take action to limit these types of climate impacts.
HERSHER: As for what comes next, now that the U.S. has formally signalled it's done with Paris, a year has to pass before the withdrawal is final. In the meantime, a delegation from the State Department will still attend the annual meeting of the nearly 200 countries that are in the agreement. It's in early December, and if a new president were to take office in 2021 and decided to re-enter the Paris Agreement, they can.
LIGHT: On Inauguration Day 2021, you know, they can communicate to the United Nations that we want to get back in the Paris Agreement. It takes 30 days for that to happen, so that's pretty much the easy part.
HERSHER: The harder part will be pushing to get the U.S. back on track to reduce greenhouse gas emissions before the most catastrophic effects of climate change are inevitable. Rebecca Hersher, NPR News.
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