Silver lining in US withdrawal from Paris
The decision in early June by the United States to withdraw from the Paris Accord, the latest global effort to combat climate change and adapt to its effects, sent shockwaves of uncertainty around the world. The agreement, which entered into force in November 2016, has the goal of limiting the global temperature rise to two degrees Celsius this century. But there is no reason to panic, says Vahakn Kabakian — Lebanon’s climate change portfolio manager at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Instead, he points out that the American withdrawal may have served to strengthen the resolve of other countries and the international community to reach the commitments they promised toward mitigating climate change.
One of the key takeaways from Paris has been the role the private sector will play in financing the renewable energy projects that governments want to build to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation. Lebanon is now awaiting a joint Ministry of Finance (MoF) and Ministry of Energy and Water (MoEW) recommendation to the Council of Ministers for the latter to license the construction of some 200 new megawatts (MW) of wind-generated electricity. In mid-August the MoEW will also begin evaluating offers from companies to construct up to 180 MW of solar-generated electricity. The cost estimates for the construction of these renewables projects have not yet been publicly disclosed, but financing may not be so difficult to find (see story, page 58). The new projects would bring Lebanon close to achieving its commitment of hav- ing 12 percent renewable energy in the national energy mix by 2020.
From what you’ve heard within Lebanon, and from its counterparts regionally and internationally, what has been the reaction to the United States withdrawing from the Paris Accord?
It varies. For the people who are really not into it, they all saw it with an ‘Oh, you guys are screwed’ sort of a reaction, which might be true if you really look at it from a planetary perspective. At Paris we agreed on a target below two degrees Celsius, and that’s in jeopardy if the US is out. Effectively, they won’t be out before November 2020, because there’s a clause in the agreement that you can’t withdraw until three years after it enters into force — [which was] November 2016. So 2019 [would be the earliest the withdrawal could start], and then the process takes around a year, so that’s November 2020, which would probably be after or around election day in the US. And then the incoming president, once they take office, could reverse this in 30 days or so. Now that’s procedure.
No [not just a psychological effect], because if the US re-enters the Paris Agreement in 2020 or 2021, they would have essentially lost four years of efforts toward meeting their 2030 target — 25 to 28 percent below their 2005 emissions. So that lag time, plus if the US actually locks in investments in new fossil-intensive technologies for the coming 20 or 30 years — [that’s] money not spent in the right direction, if in four years time you’re going to reverse [Trump’s decision] and re-enter [the accord].
Now what’s good, and what no one really expected, is that globally there was this amazing solidarity on the Paris Agreement from thinktanks, NGOs, governments, and coalitions of governments, thinking of doing more than what they’ve already committed. France is trying to do that, the EU went to China — there was a summit.
The EU is much more strongly committed now than it was probably before. That’s why there was an EU-China summit — I think it was the next day or so — followed by a French-Indian sort-of summit. [Everyone], especially China and India, were very much trying to send a message that that’s not true (that America’s withdrawal has scuppered the accord): ‘We’re fully committed.’ That’s on the international level. At the US level, California is leading and Hawaii just passed a climate change law — they’re saying to the federal government, ‘We’re in.’
One of the key takeaways from Paris is that this is going to be a big private sector opportunity. So when you see all the huge corporations in the US — the EXXONs and these sorts — stepping up and pledging to reach Paris commitments, does that reassure?
Definitely, the key players in the Paris Agreement are the non-state actors, which, in the US case, are doing what they want to do irrespective of