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Jamaican stakeholders weigh in on US retreat from Paris Agreement

Published:Wednesday | June 28, 2017 | 12:00 AMPetre Williams-Raynor
Dr Dayne Buddo with Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Minister Kamina Johnson Smith at the UN Ocean Conference.
US President Donald Trump
Diana McCaulay

IN THE weeks since the United States (US) revealed its decision to exit the Paris Agreement, Jamaican stakeholders appear to have come to terms with it, some going as far as to suggest it augurs well for those sticking with the deal.

"I am glad that the US has made their stance on climate change clear. Since the Paris Accord commitments were voluntary, the US could have stayed in the accord and just done nothing, which perhaps would have been more harmful," said Diana McCaulay, chief executive officer for the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET).

"The pull-out has galvanised many countries, states and cities in the US, and that is a good thing," she told The Gleaner.

The agreement, brokered in France in December 2015 "aims to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change, in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty".

This is by, among other things, "holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, recognising that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change".

Still, McCaulay said the move announced by US President Donald Trump on June 1 did not send a positive signal.

"The US is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases on a historical basis and their withdrawal could threaten the entire agreement because it essentially says to the world - I don't care that my development path has threatened yours," she said.

While not binding on the more than 140 countries that have ratified it, the agreement sees signatories aiming "to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible, recognising that peaking will take longer for developing country parties, and to undertake rapid reductions thereafter in accordance with best available science".

President Trump, in announcing the withdrawal, said he felt compelled to do so.

"As president, I can put no other consideration before the well-being of American citizens. The Paris Climate Accord is simply the latest example of Washington entering into an agreement that disadvantages the United States to the exclusive benefit of other countries, leaving American workers who I love and taxpayers to absorb the cost in terms of lost jobs, lower wages, shuttered factories, and vastly diminished economic production," he said in his statement, which is available on the White House website.


Vast fortune


"Thus ... the United States will cease all implementation of the non-binding Paris Accord and the draconian financial and economic burdens the agreement imposes on our country. This includes ending the implementation of the nationally determined contribution and, very importantly, the Green Climate Fund which is costing the United States a vast fortune," he added.

Despite any negative signal the US's retreat may send, marine biologist Dr Dayne Buddo said if nothing else, it helped boost publicity on the agreement, which was achieved after years-long and at times strenuous negotiations among countries.

"One thing for sure is that more Americans know about the Paris Agreement now since President Trump pulled out, so public awareness and support for the Paris Agreement has increased," said Buddo, who participated in the June 5 to 9 UN Ocean Conference where much was made of the value of the ocean to the global effort to combat climate change.

At the same time, Buddo said actions on the ground in the US also bode well for the deal's future.

"The current move by the State-level governments to sign the Paris Agreement would reduce any negative impact from the country pulling out. In fact, bringing this issue to the State level may even be better," he told The Gleaner.

Head of the Climate Change Division UnaMay Gordon said Jamaica respected the US's right to make their own decision.

"Each party has a right to determine their future engagement with the (United Nations Framework) Convention (on Climate Change) and the agreement. We are saddened that such an important party (the US) has decided on this course of action, but respect their decision," she said.

Now, Gordon added, small island developing states (SIDS) and their partners must press ahead with plans to ready themselves for the onslaught of climate change, which brings not only warmer temperatures, but also sea level rise and more extreme weather events, among other things.

"Jamaica and other SIDS and their developed country partners will have to step up their efforts to ensure that our resilience is built to protect its population," she said.