Report on US Damage to Global Environmental Governance
2020/10/21

Humankind has only one earth, and humans and nature are a shared community. It is the common responsibility of all countries to preserve ecological environment and promote sustainable development. Only by building and implementing a fair, equitable, and win-win global environmental governance mechanism can we achieve sustainable development in a comprehensive, complete, efficient and economical way, and attain the future we want. To this end, the international community has worked to formulate a series of multilateral environmental treaties, covering various aspects including climate change, biodiversity conservation, ozone layer protection, and chemical pollution prevention and control. These treaties provide a basic legal framework and guidance for international cooperation. As the most advanced developed country, the US has a poor track record in its engagement and compliance with multilateral environmental treaties, which has greatly damaged the fairness, efficiency, and effectiveness of global environmental governance.

I. Withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has been in effect for more than 20 years. Thanks to the joint efforts of all parties, the global response to climate change has made good progress.

In order to strengthen the implementation of the Convention, from the end of 2011 to 2015, countries including the US, through difficult negotiations, finally reached a comprehensive, balanced, strong and binding Paris Agreement in Paris, France in December 2015. This marked a new milestone of global climate governance. The Agreement embodies the greatest international consensus on strengthening the efforts to jointly address climate challenges, enriches and develops the international climate governance system based on the UNFCCC, and points out the direction for post-2020 global cooperation. It is a shining pearl among the major multilateral achievements in recent years. In November 2016, less than one year after the Agreement was adopted, and just half a year after it was opened for signature, the requirements of the clause of entry into force were met, and the Agreement came into effect.

The US is a party to the Convention and played an important part in the conclusion of the Paris Agreement and its entry into force. From 2014 to 2016, China and the US issued three joint statements on climate change. The political consensus embodied in the above statements laid an important foundation for the adoption of the Agreement and its entry into force. The Agreement was approved by President Obama shortly after its adoption. On 3 September, the eve of the 2016 G20 Hangzhou Summit, the presidents of China and the US jointly deposited instruments of ratification to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, which injected impetus into the rapid entry into force of the Agreement.

Since taking office, Trump administration has reversed the climate- and environment-friendly policies of the Obama administration. It has run in reverse gear on environmental issues, resulting in a serious regression in the US position on climate change.

Before his inauguration, Trump made repeated skeptical comments on climate science, calling global warming a hoax, frequently creating a political atmosphere of climate change skepticism, and openly challenging the international consensus on climate change.

Trump administration has constantly loosened the environmental constraints related to the development of fossil fuel industries, involving areas such as air pollution, oil and gas exploration and exploitation, protection of animals, plants and the environment, and prevention and control of water pollution.

On 28 March 2017, Trump administration signed the executive order on "Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth", proposing that in order to promote US energy independence and facilitate economic and employment growth, it should comprehensively evaluate, revise and rescind climate change-related measures in place.

According to the statistics released by the New York Times in July 2020, since Trump administration took office, around 70 major environmental policies have been rescinded directly or indirectly, with 30 more reversals in process.

Trump administration regarded the Paris Agreement as a thorn in his flesh, repeatedly blaming it for placing the US businesses at a disadvantage, and clamoring for withdrawal from the Agreement to clear the thorn.

On 1 June 2017, Trump administration announced that the US would withdraw from the Paris Agreement, cease implementing its Nationally Determined Contributions, and cease its funding to the Green Climate Fund (GCF).

On 4 August 2017, the US State Department stated that it had submitted a notice of intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement to the United Nations, and would submit a written notice of withdrawal to the UN Secretary-General as soon as it is eligible to do so, unless appropriate circumstances have emerged that are favorable for the US to re-engage the Agreement. The statement also tried to re-open negotiations on the Agreement, stating that if President Trump can see more favorable terms for the US and American companies, workers, people, and taxpayers, the US is open to re-engage the Agreement.

On 4 November 2019, the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the US had notified the United Nations and announced that it would officially withdraw from the Paris Agreement. Pompeo also emphasized that the US withdrawal is due to the unfair economic burden imposed on it. Pursuant to the withdrawal clause, the US will formally withdraw from the Agreement on 4 November 2020, and it will become the only party to withdraw thus far.

Trump administration's reckless withdrawal from the Paris Agreement is a telling manifestation of its pursuit of "America First" policy and unilateralism. It embodies its contemptuous attitude toward international laws and rules, that is, "apply or abandon them in a selective way". Such withdrawal severely undermines global climate governance and international climate collaboration.

First, it has weakened the ambition and joint efforts of the international community to tackle climate change. The US is the world's largest emitter in history, and the second largest emitter at present, accounting for about 15% of global carbon emissions. An United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report identified the US as the largest emitter in terms of accumulative carbon emissions. From 1751 to 2010, its emissions from the energy and industrial sectors accounted for up to 27.9% of the global total. In terms of carbon emissions per capita, the US has been among the highest. In 2017, its fossil fuel emissions per capita were 14.6 tons, 3.3 times of the global average.

The US emission reduction performance is an important factor affecting the effectiveness of global climate governance. The US has not ratified the Kyoto Protocol and has now withdrawn from the Paris Agreement, denying its own binding quantified emission reduction obligations. It has completely digressed from the global system and arrangements, and seriously impeded global emission reduction and green and low-carbon development.

Second, it has enlarged the deficit in global climate governance leadership. As a developed country and a major global emitter, the US has always been an important player in global climate governance. It played an important role in promoting the adoption of the Paris Agreement. Its attitude toward enforcement leads the way for many developed countries. The US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement and shifting of its responsibilities to other countries set a bad example and severely damaged the multilateral process, exerting unpredictable negative effects on the follow-up implementation of the Agreement and the realization of global temperature targets.

Third, it has brought complexity to the multilateral process of climate response. Although the US repeatedly claimed to withdraw from the deal and initiated the withdrawal procedures, the status of "will withdraw but not yet" and "withdraw in word but not in reality" has lasted for quite a long time. During the above period, the US has been constantly disrupting the negotiations on the follow-up negotiations of the Paris Agreement and exerting negative influence on the consolidation of the rule system.

During the 2018 United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Katowice (COP24), the US ignored the green and low-carbon development trend and held a side event on the promotion of fossil fuel technology, which triggered resentment from all parties and fierce resistance from non-governmental organizations. At the three United Nations Climate Change Conferences since 2017, the US held a negative negotiating stance. It has been the winner of the ironic "Fossil of the Day" award based on NGO votes for one-fifth of the times, more than any other country in the world.

The US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement has been opposed unanimously by the international community. Leaders of various countries and international organizations have expressed their regrets and disappointments to Trump administration's decision. The Secretary-General of the United Nations, the Executive Secretary of the Secretariat of the UNFCCC, the European Union and Germany, France, Italy, the UK, Mexico, Canada, and Japan, among others, have all expressed their regrets through spokespersons, statements or in other forms.

In response to the US claim that it is willing to re-engage the Agreement under the condition of re-negotiation, all parties emphasized that the Paris Agreement has been widely accepted and negotiations cannot be reopened.

Contrary to the flagrant withdrawal of the US, the international community has reaffirmed its firm will to implement the Agreement and strengthen global climate governance.

The EU said it will strengthen cooperation with other allies to address climate change. Germany, France and Italy issued a joint statement underscoring their readiness to implement the Paris Agreement and climate financing goals as early as possible, and to assist developing countries at full stretch, especially the least developed countries and countries that are most affected by climate change, in realizing mitigation and adaptation related goals. The UK, Mexico, Australia, the Republic of Korea and others have also reiterated their support and commitment to the Agreement. UN Secretary-General António Guterres expressed through his spokesperson his belief that countries and businesses around the world will continue to demonstrate outstanding vision and leadership, and are committed to low-carbon and resilient economic growth. At the same time, people in the US have also launched the "We are still in" campaign, and the voices against the US withdrawal continue to rise.

II. Failure to Fulfill International Obligations

Fulfilling treaty obligations in good faith is an important basic principle of international law, and a country's earnest fulfillment of treaty obligations is essential for observing and implementing the rules of international law. In the international environmental field, the US has fulfilled its treaty obligations and international commitments in a non-good faith manner, trampling on international laws and rules.

i. Insufficient implementation of climate action commitments

1. The US has moved slowly in fulfilling its emission reduction commitments. Under the UNFCCC, the US, as an Annex I country of the Convention, should take measures to limit greenhouse gas emissions and take the lead in fulfilling its emission reduction obligations. However, after the ratification of the Convention in October 1992, the US witnessed a rapid increase in its carbon emissions, and the growth trend had lasted for 15 years. It did not reach its peak emissions until around 2007.

In 2010, the US notified the Secretariat that it pledged to reduce its economy-wide carbon emissions by 17% compared to the 2005 level by 2020. However, according to the latest US greenhouse gas inventory report, as of the end of 2018, the US greenhouse gas emissions were only 10.2% lower than in 2005, barely fulfilling its 60% emission reduction target. In 2015, the Obama administration proposed a new climate action target, promising to reduce emissions by 26%-28% compared to the 2005 level by 2025. Trump administration reneged on the promise by announcing in June 2017 that it would refuse to fulfill the above goals.

2. The US has ignored the reporting obligations of the Convention. According to Article 12 of the Convention and relevant COP decisions, as a developed country, the US should submit Biennial Report every two years and National Communication every four years. The US has refused to submit relevant progress reports for three consecutive years, making it impossible for the international community to have a full picture of the US actions and progress. Since 2018, the US has not submitted its 3rd and 4th Biennial Reports and its 7th National Communication, becoming one of the very few developed countries that failed to fulfill this obligation. The above-mentioned actions of the US once again set a bad example for developed countries who are expected to stringently implement the Convention, thus injecting negative energy into global climate governance.

ii. Failure to fulfill funding commitments

Funding support is key to the implementation of multilateral environmental treaties and to the effective climate actions by developing countries. According to relevant treaty provisions, the principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities" and historical responsibilities, the US, as a developed country, has the obligation to provide sufficient and sustained financial support to developing countries. But instead of doing so, Trump administration has kept cutting down environment-related budget and substantially reduced investment in environment-related research and development and international cooperation. Its proposed budget for fiscal year 2021 allocates almost nothing for multilateral environmental cooperation, including on climate change and biodiversity. Internationally, the US has not earnestly fulfilled its obligations, with frequent contributions arrears and slackening of environment-related efforts. It has also arbitrarily rejected developing countries' appeals for funding, and gone out of its way to weaken funding mechanisms under the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement.

1. The US has drastically reduced its pledges to Global Environment Facility (GEF). Established in 1991, GEF serves as the main financial mechanism for important international environmental agreements, including the UNFCCC, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, and the Minamata Convention on Mercury. In the history of GEF, the largest contributions arrears come from the US, which stand at US$111 million (approximately US$111 million in GEF-2 replenishment), accounting for 95.7% of the total arrears of US$116 million. At the same time, the US has substantially lowered its pledges of contributions. While most developed countries raised their pledges during the GEF-7 replenishment in 2018, Trump administration drastically reduced its pledges to US$270 million, a 50% reduction from the previous round, marking the first major decrease in GEF's history.

2. The US has failed to fulfill its funding pledge for GCF. Established in 2010, GCF is an important financial mechanism under the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement. Its funding support is needed for developing countries to deal with climate change. At GCF's initial fund-raising stage in November 2014, the Obama administration promised to contribute US$3 billion and in effect provided US$1 billion before the end of its term. But after Trump administration took office, he announced the cessation of funding and refused to provide the outstanding US$2 billion. At the first round of GCF replenishment negotiations in 2019, while most developed countries agreed to increase their contributions, Trump administration contributed nothing, creating troubles for meeting the GCF replenishment target.

3. The US has contributions arrears for multilateral environmental treaties. The US has taken a negative attitude toward paying membership contributions to multilateral environmental treaties. According to the 2019 report of the UNCCD secretariat, the US had contributions arrears of more than 3.058 million euros from 1999 to 2019. Since 2018, the US has yet to pay over 13.547 million euros of UNFCCC contributions.

4. The US has hindered the progress of global environmental research. According to a report of the US House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, "Solving the Climate Crisis: the Congressional Action Plan for a Clean Energy Economy and a Healthy, Resilient, and Just America", Trump administration provided no funding to the IPCC and the UNFCCC in 2017, despite the fact that previous administrations contributed US$10 million each year. In doing so, the US has impeded scientific research on climate change both at home and across the world.

In general, the US has greatly weakened the ability of relevant mechanisms to provide funding to developing countries and hindered global climate and environmental cooperation. Its membership contributions arrears and funding cuts for environment-related R&D have also reduced financial resources for implementing multilateral environmental treaties, obstructed the multilateral process of environmental governance under various conventions, and slowed down the progress of global environmental research.

III. Absence from Multilateral Environmental Treaties in Multiple Fields

i. The US has refused to be bound by treaties by signing but not ratifying them.

Environmental issues are common challenges for humanity. They concern the global commons and carry strong spill-over effects. As countries across the world form a community with a shared future, relevant challenges urgently need to be addressed by the international community under the multilateral framework through strengthened rules and implementation of treaties.

However, out of its selfish interests, the US has been selectively absent from the multilateral environmental field. It has signed treaties such as the Kyoto Protocol, the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal, the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade, and the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, but it has ratified none of them and has long been an outsider of the multilateral framework. The above-mentioned treaties have global implications, with each having more than 160 parties, and the CBD and the Kyoto Protocol even having more than 190 parties. But the US has neither ratified the CBD nor acceded to the three important protocols on biodiversity, i.e. the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from Their Utilization, the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and the Nagoya-Kuala Lumpur Supplementary Protocol on Liability and Redress.

The US is not only an important party to global climate and environmental governance, but also a major country of greenhouse gas emissions, bio-technology, chemical production and waste export. It can and should make great contributions to multilateral governance in relevant fields. However, it has not ratified multiple environmental treaties after signing them. This shows that the US has taken a unilateralist approach of evading restrictions from international environmental treaties and its own international responsibilities, and that it has been ignorant of international environmental protection efforts and non-cooperative toward the multilateral environmental field. Its inaction has created major loopholes in multilateral governance under relevant treaties, including reducing by one third the greenhouse gas emissions covered by the Kyoto Protocol, and posed severe challenges to global environmental integrity and effectiveness of multilateral environmental treaties.

ii. The US has violated purposes of treaties and disrupted their implementation.

According to the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, a country is obliged to refrain from acts which would defeat the object and purpose of a treaty after signing it, even though it has not entered into force for this country. However, after signing the Kyoto Protocol, the US has seen a rapid rise of carbon emissions, which is inconsistent with the purpose of the Protocol and its emission limitation or reduction commitment of 7% cuts. But at the same time, the US has been pushing developing countries to lower their emissions, and even claimed that the precondition for its ratification of the Kyoto Protocol is the undertaking of emission reduction obligations by developing countries. This fully reveals the double standards applied by the US, i.e. treating others strictly while being lenient to itself.

Affected by the passive attitude of the US, many developed countries have refused to make new emission reduction commitments under the second commitment period (2013-2020) of the Kyoto Protocol. Some developed countries have even withdrawn from the Protocol without fulfilling their emission reduction obligations under the first commitment period. This has further reduced the global emission coverage of the Protocol and created major difficulties for relevant negotiations and implementation work. As a result, the Doha Amendment which concerns the second commitment period of the Protocol has been long put on hold, and the Protocol now only exists in name due to the US-led withdrawal.

IV. Disruption of the Multilateral Environmental Process

While dodging international responsibilities under multilateral environmental governance, the US has also disrupted international environmental cooperation and acted as a trouble-maker in global environmental governance.

i. The US has broken G20 consensus on climate change. Climate change had been a subject of G20 leaders' declarations since 2009. Yet due to the deliberate obstruction of the US, no consensus was reached on this topic for the first time in the G20 Hamburg Declaration in 2017. In the end, the Declaration adopted a "19+1" compromise in the climate-related paragraphs, i.e. 19 members reiterating their commitment to the Paris Agreement and global climate governance, while the US announcing its withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. Because of the continued negative stance of the US, the 2018 and 2019 G20 leaders' declarations followed the same "19+1" approach, which seriously weakened the G20's leading role on climate change.

ii. The US has deliberately impeded environmental projects in developing countries. When it comes to environmental funds and project approval, the US has not only sharply reduced contributions in recent years, but also pointed fingers at developing countries' right to use funds and frequently created troubles for international cooperation. The US has repeatedly challenged the legitimate and reasonable rights of developing countries to use funds, and has also been single-handedly blocking the adoption of projects in developing countries:

Since November 2013, it has blocked climate change, biodiversity and other projects in developing countries with such excuses as human trafficking and human rights violations.

In the past five years, it has expressed unreasonable objections to several China-related projects. Since December 2018, it has rejected all Chinese projects according to a memorandum signed by Trump administration concerning countries that have not complied with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.

On similar grounds, it has single-handedly expressed opposition regarding projects in many developing countries, including Cuba, Burundi, Sudan, South Sudan, Equatorial Guinea, Mauritania, The Gambia, Comoros, the Republic of the Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Laos, Eritrea, and Venezuela.

iii. The US has blocked the global plastic waste management process. As countries have deepened their awareness of the hazardous effects of plastic waste pollution, strengthening control over plastic waste import and export has gradually become an international consensus. China decided to include plastic waste and other wastes from overseas into its Catalog of Prohibited Imports of Solid Waste in July 2017. But the US, as a signatory to the Basel Convention, has made groundless accusations against China for disrupting the global waste recycle business, and asked China to cancel its decision, with the purpose of meeting its own need for waste export. In doing so, the US has gone against the international trend and ignored China's rights as a party to the Convention.

In May 2019, the Conference of the Parties of the Basel Convention adopted an amendment to strengthen plastic waste management, establishing a global framework for the prevention and control of plastic waste pollution. It was reported that during the meeting, the US, as a non-party to the Convention, kept playing tricks behind the scenes in an attempt to block the adoption of the amendment. Such acts once again revealed the arrogance of the US.

Ecological conservation is vital to the future of humanity, and making the earth our green home is our shared dream. Protecting the ecological environment and addressing climate change require the concerted efforts of all countries. No country can stay out of it and no country can do it alone.

Guided by Xi Jinping thought on ecological conservation, China has treated nature with awe and stepped up efforts to foster an ecological system conducive to green development. China calls for jointly building a clean and beautiful world and a shared future for all life on earth.

As a developing country, China has been taking climate actions to the best of its ability. We have over-delivered on our 2020 climate action target ahead of schedule and made important contributions to global response to climate change. On 22 September 2020, President Xi Jinping announced in his statement at the General Debate of the 75th session of the UN General Assembly that China will scale up its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions by adopting more vigorous policies and measures, and aims to have CO2 emissions peak before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060.

The US backpedaling on global environmental governance issues goes against the aspirations of the American people and harms the common interests of people around world and future generations. It is hoped that the US will return as soon as possible to the right track of responding to global environmental crises by upholding international law and multilateralism and promoting global synergy and extensive participation. The US is expected to work with other countries to create a future of win-win cooperation, the rule of law, fairness and justice, inclusiveness, mutual learning, and common development, with each country making contribution to the best of its ability.

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