US Election 2024: Climate Treaties & Agreements Report Card

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During the Obama administration, significant strides were made in addressing climate change on an international scale, spearheaded by President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry. The United States was instrumental to the Paris Agreement reached in 2015 with the aspirational target of holding global warming to 1.5° Celsius (2.7° Fahrenheit) and a harder target of 2° Celsius (3.6° Fahrenheit), securing broad consensus and ambitious commitments from both developed and developing countries. Additionally, under their leadership, the United States played a crucial role in the adoption of the Kigali Amendment, which focused on high global warming potential refrigerants.

In his administration, Trump immediately removed the USA from the Paris Accord, just as President George W. Bush had removed the USA from the Kyoto Protocol shortly after entering the Oval Office. Trump also prevented US ratification of the Kigali Amendment during his administration. Loss of the United States’ leadership in global climate efforts left a vacuum, one into which China stepped. That said, one of the last things the Trump administration did was pass the American Innovation and Manufacturing (AIM) Act, which included declining annual HFC allowances and created a market mechanism for trading them.

When the current Democratic administration started early in 2021, the USA was not signatory to any international agreements on climate change. The country was one of three nations in the world not signatory to the Paris Agreement. While fewer nations were signatory to the Kigali Amendment reached in 2016, the United States absence as a major industrialized country and manufacturer of high global warming potential refrigerants was an issue.

The Biden administration has made significant strides in re-establishing the United States as a leader in global climate efforts since taking office. One of President Biden’s first actions was to rejoin the Paris Agreement, signaling a renewed commitment to international climate cooperation. At the COP26 summit in 2021, the Biden administration and the EU co-launched the Global Methane Pledge, which now has over 150 countries committed to reducing global methane emissions by at least 30% from 2020 levels by 2030.

In further efforts, the US Senate ratified the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol in September 2022, aiming to phase down the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFC), potent greenhouse gases. At the COP27 summit, the Biden administration announced a range of initiatives, including substantial financial contributions to support early-warning systems and climate adaptation in Africa. The administration has set an ambitious goal to mobilize $11.4 billion annually in international climate finance by 2024, bolstering efforts such as the Green Climate Fund to help developing nations tackle climate challenges.

The Biden administration initially took significant steps to re-engage with China on climate issues. At COP26 in Glasgow, the US and China issued the US–China Joint Glasgow Declaration on Enhancing Climate Action, reaffirming their commitment to work together to strengthen the implementation of the Paris Agreement. They agreed to collaborate on a range of initiatives, including reducing methane emissions and enhancing transparency in their climate actions.

Those early efforts have mostly foundered in the face of the economic reality that China is the only scaled manufacturer of innumerable technologies required for rapid climate action, something that’s been clear for years, but whose ramifications have only recently started to sink in within the USA and Europe. The Biden Administration’s unprecedented 100% tariffs on Chinese EVs fails the lessons of history and fails against US leadership on free trade and global competition since World War II. The Biden Administration’s treatment of China is perceived as hypocritical globally, as the USA has established high tariffs on Chinese clean technology because of claims of unfair subsidies while simultaneously providing high subsidies to US domestic manufacturers. The reality is that China has had an industrial policy focused on building the supply chains, manufacturing, and deployment capacity for solar panels, wind turbines, batteries, and electric vehicles for decades, running to where the cleantech ball would be, while the United States followed the ball through the markets.

The United States has demonstrated strong support for the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) Revised Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Strategy, released in July 2023. As a leading advocate for ambitious climate goals, the US has pushed for stringent emission reduction targets and measures to align the shipping sector with the Paris Agreement’s objectives. The US has endorsed the IMO’s goal of achieving zero emissions from international shipping by 2050, aligning this with its broader national climate policies.

The US–India Climate and Clean Energy Agenda 2030 Partnership is a collaborative initiative aimed at advancing ambitious climate action and clean energy innovation between the two nations. Launched to support India’s goal of achieving 450 GW of renewable energy by 2030, the partnership focuses on mobilizing finance, scaling up clean energy technologies, and enhancing capacity to manage climate-related risks

Also included in this section is the consideration of fossil fuel subsidies. Biden with Obama pledged in 2009 to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies, along with the G7 and G20, yet they made no progress before 2016. Biden’s 2021 budget had included significant reductions in subsidies, but they were stripped out by Congress. Subsequent efforts and rhetoric had similar results. In 2022, the last year for which IMF data is available, US direct and indirect subsidies to the fossil fuel industry reached $757 billion. For context, the military budget that year was $753 billion. Yes, 17 years after first committing to lower fossil fuel subsidies, subsidies were actually higher than the USA’s incredibly high military budget, which was higher than the next ten countries’ combined.

Finally, there is the key topic of carbon pricing. The Biden Administration attempted to pass a bill marketed as an anti-China, carbon border adjustment mechanism bill, but that couldn’t get sufficient Democratic votes because it also included domestic carbon pricing. The Administration did manage to pass a methane emissions price of $900 per ton, rising to $1,500 in 2026. Further, by strengthening the EPA and ensuring it focused on administering and enforcing the HFC allowances and credit trading system passed in the American Innovation and Manufacturing Act, the Biden Administration ensured that that program would be successful.

In his campaign pledges to date that pertain to climate, Trump has asserted that he would remove the USA from the Paris Accord again, as well as tearing up the methane emissions price. As US business sees the Kigali Amendment positively, Trump has not committed to exiting the agreement at this time.

 


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Michael Barnard

is a climate futurist, strategist and author. He spends his time projecting scenarios for decarbonization 40-80 years into the future. He assists multi-billion dollar investment funds and firms, executives, Boards and startups to pick wisely today. He is founder and Chief Strategist of TFIE Strategy Inc and a member of the Advisory Board of electric aviation startup FLIMAX. He hosts the Redefining Energy - Tech podcast (https://shorturl.at/tuEF5) , a part of the award-winning Redefining Energy team. Most recently he contributed to "Proven Climate Solutions: Leading Voices on How to Accelerate Change" (https://www.amazon.com/Proven-Climate-Solutions-Leading-Accelerate-ebook/dp/B0D2T8Z3MW) along with Mark Z. Jacobson, Mary D. Nichols, Dr. Robert W. Howarth and Dr. Audrey Lee among others.

Michael Barnard has 761 posts and counting. See all posts by Michael Barnard