Syria has become a signatory of the Paris climate agreement, leaving the US as the only country in the world not to support the framework deal to combat greenhouse gas emissions.
When President Donald Trump announced he intended to pull the US out of the agreement, it initially meant America would join Nicaragua and Syria on a small list of countries who were not part of the deal.
The war-torn Middle East nation made the announcement in Bonn, Germany at the COP 23 UN climate summit. Syria is facing the sixth year of a brutal civil conflict, which started with rebel groups fighting the government of President Bashar al-Assad and expanded to include a battle against Isis.
The Paris accord was signed by nearly 200 countries in December 2015 in an effort to curb global greenhouse gas emissions and limit global warming to within 2 degrees Celsius.
Until recently Nicaragua was also a holdout nation, but only because the Central American country felt the agreement did not go far enough in putting limits on emissions and helping poorer countries adapt to an already-changed planet with solid financial commitments by wealthier nations.
Scientists had confirmed the emissions levels agreed upon by top polluters like the US, EU, China, and India were not low enough to keep sea levels from rising and global warming under 2 degrees Celsius, let alone the recommended and more ambitious goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2100.
However, parties to the deal agreed, it was far superior to having no global climate change agreement at all.
Nicaragua has been a haven for renewable energy – more than half of the nation’s energy comes from geothermic, wind, solar, and wave energy. They plan on increasing that to a 90 per cent share by 2020.
The World Bank called it a “a renewable energy paradise” in 2013.
The US was among the first to sign the deal and put it into action under former President Barack Obama’s executive order, which bypassed climate change deniers in Congress. But his executive action meant the Paris accord was not a legally binding treaty for the US, and paved the way for Mr Trump to withdraw.
In June he cited that American workers were being put at an “economic disadvantage” by the deal, particularly referring to coal workers.
As The Washington Post reported, “the coal industry employed 76,572 people in 2014,” the last year US Census data is available for the industry.
Following the worldwide, swift, and public backlash Mr Trump faced there was talk of renegotiating the deal; “if we can get a deal, that’s great. If not, that’s fine” he commented.
France, Germany, and Italy immediately announced that renegotiation was not a possibility and the topic is not on the agenda for the next two weeks of meetings in Bonn where countries will hammer out details on how to implement the accord beginning in 2020 when provisions take effect.
In fact, Mr Trump did not have to withdraw from the deal at all.
Sue Biniaz, former US State Department Deputy Legal Adviser on climate, previously told The Independent that she thinks the joint statement “is driven by the Paris Agreement’s careful balancing and accommodation of interests, very much already including those of the US.”
“There’s no legal reason why it couldn’t be amended, but I don’t think it needs to be amended or ‘renegotiated’ in order to address the concerns raised by the President,” said Ms Biniaz.
“The US has the ability to change its own targets,” Todd Stern, the Special Envoy on Climate Change during the Obama administration, told The Independent at the time of withdrawal.
Domestically, the Paris withdrawal appears to be part of a larger scheme to roll back Obama-era environmental regulations, including the Clean Power Plan which was supposed to be one of the main vehicles for the US to meet Paris targets.
If left in place, the CPP would have reduced US power plants’ carbon emissions by 2030 to a level 32 per cent lower than they were in 2005.
Paula Caballero, Global Director of the Climate Program at Washington DC-based think tank the World Resources Institute said that “with Syria on board, now the entire world is resolutely committed to advancing climate action – all save one country. This should make the Trump administration pause and reflect on their ill-advised announcement about withdrawing.”
It remains to be seen whether or not this will impact the actions of the US delegation over the next fortnight of talks at COP23. The White House has said it “will promote coal, natural gas and nuclear energy as an answer to climate change.”
The goal for the rest of the countries now is to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.