What a U.S. Withdrawal from the Paris Agreement Means for All of Us

By Sydney Lines

On the 22nd of April, 2016, 175 world leaders gathered at the United Nations Headquarters to sign the Paris Agreement, a critical step forward in a global agreement and international action plan to confront climate change and its effects on the planet. The agreement’s overall objective is to limit the rise in global temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius with an aim to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius by reducing emissions, creating more government transparency, adapting to societal needs, and recognizing the role of non-party stakeholders like cities, business, and civil society. The Paris Agreement entered into force on November 4, 2016. Today, on the 1st of June, 2017, the United States became the first country to withdraw from the agreement. Under the normal rules of the agreement, the U.S. will officially withdraw in November 2020. While the exit sends a powerful message both abroad and at home, the time is ripe for local movements to start addressing the effects of climate change ourselves. The backlash has already begun.

Several U.S. companies condemned the Paris Agreement exit citing the reality of climate change and its terrible effects on our environment, economy, and collective future. Others pledged to continue reducing their greenhouse gas emissions and remain industrial leaders in the absence of sustainable federal policy. These sentiments came from companies in the technology, engineering, and energy sectors–including oil companies that are part of the transition away from fossil fuels.

As of this writing, nearly 70 U.S. mayors have committed to uphold the Paris Climate Agreement stating, “We will continue to lead. We are increasing investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency. We will buy and create more demand for electric cars and trucks. We will increase our efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions, create a clean energy economy, and stand for environmental justice. And if the President wants to break the promises made to our allies enshrined in the historic Paris Agreement, we’ll build and strengthen relationships around the world to protect the planet from devastating climate risks.”

And then there are private citizens like you and I, many of whom have already been galvanized in unprecedented ways to join local movements focused on positive change. Sociologists are seeing unprecedented grassroots activism on both the left and the right — particularly among people who have never been politically active before. And that’s where our power lies.

This kind of non-party stakeholder backlash–from business, local governments, and civil society– is exactly the kind of momentum we need in order to maintain the tenets of the Paris Climate Accord even when we no longer have an official role within it. Because here’s the thing, the Earth doesn’t care if we believe in climate change. It’s happening whether we believe it or not. As long as we individually change our behaviors and support movements and organizations that hold themselves accountable to the tenets of the Paris Climate Agreement, we can still succeed at creating a more sustainable future for ourselves and all those who come after us.

Today Mark Zuckerberg said, “Stopping climate change is something we can only do as a global community, and we have to act together before it’s too late.” The beauty of community is that there are thousands of them, and they are strong when they’re united in a larger vision. If you’re feeling fired up, harness the momentum and find a movement that ignites you. You can join us here at the Arizona Sustainability Alliance to start.


Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For indeed, that’s all who ever have.