This article claims that the repeal of climate rules under the Trump administration will put the US on track to miss the target set out in the Paris agreement.

Whether the U.S. meets its emissions-reduction commitments under the Paris climate accord is pivotal to the success of the global agreement, but the Trump administration's policies have all but ensured the U.S. will fall far short. One recent analysis says the country will miss its target by more than 1 billion metric tons.

Question: What are the repercussions for the US if they fail to meet this target?

Note: The analysis link above will open a pdf.


2 Answers 2


The simple answer is nothing. These climate accords aren't worth the paper they're printed on. A lot of that has to do with the fact that people wanted something on paper, even if it was meaningless (note that this is talking about the Lima conference that preceded Paris, and that the same basis was used there)

The strength of the accord — the fact that it includes pledges by every country to put forward a plan to reduce emissions at home — is also its greatest weakness. In order to get every country to agree to the deal, including the United States, the world’s largest historic carbon polluter, the Lima Accord does not include legally binding requirements that countries cut their emissions by any particular amount.

Instead, each nation will agree to enact domestic laws to reduce carbon emissions and put forth a plan by March 31 laying out how much each one will cut after 2020 and what domestic policies it will pass to achieve the cuts.

“If a country doesn’t submit a plan, there will be no punishment, no fine, no black U.N. helicopters showing up,” said Jennifer Morgan, an expert on climate negotiations with the World Resources Institute, a research organization.

Instead the architects of the plan, including top White House officials, hope that the agreement will compel countries to act to avoid international condemnation.

“It relies on a lot of peer pressure,” Ms. Morgan said.

Unsurprisingly, this produces weak accords

From a political perspective, perhaps this outcome represents “victory” for environmental activists launching their next fundraising campaign or for a president building his “legacy.” But it comes at the environment’s expense. A system of voluntary, unenforceable pledges relies on peer pressure for ambitious commitments and the “naming and shaming” of countries that drag their feet. In this context, true U.S. leadership and environmental activism require the condemnation of countries manipulating the process. Instead, the desperation to sign a piece of paper in Paris has taken precedence over an honest accounting. And once the paper is signed, any leverage or standing to demand actual change in the developing world will be weakened further.

As such, the US plan from Paris was largely Obama trying to lead by example and executive order (i.e. the Clean Power Plan). It was only enforceable as long as he was in office.

  • 8
    You summarize the repercussions as "nothing". I would have thought there is at least the potential for diplomatic consequences, like the "international condemnation" mentioned in your first quote. Whether this will be of much consideration for the US might be questionable. But I think it's not quite nothing.
    – Emil
    Commented Mar 22, 2017 at 10:59
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    @Emil If anything I suspect Trump and his supporters will be able to spin condemnation and outrage from the people doing the condemnation over ignoring the Paris accords as a positive. Commented Mar 22, 2017 at 13:44
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    "only enforceable as long as he was in office" Well, as long as a Democrat was in office. There are fairly reliable partisan guarantees of certain policies and executive orders; a lot of President Obama's legacy was thought to be secure before the evening of November 8th, 2016, when everyone was still expecting Hillary Clinton to win the US Presidential Election.
    – TylerH
    Commented Mar 22, 2017 at 14:18
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    The thing is, those accords are meant to bully weaker countries as Europe and the USA can put peer pressure on Guatemala so it reduces its emissions, but there is no way the reverse could be true, even if the USA pollute more than anyone else, by far (keep in mind that most of pollution in China is a byproduct of China producing stuff for the USA and European market).
    – Shautieh
    Commented Mar 22, 2017 at 14:25
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    I think the one clear consequence of having more smog/pollution/greenhouse gases than if the US had met the target has been omitted, though I agree politically there isn't really much if any consequence.
    – user5155
    Commented Mar 22, 2017 at 17:40

This is very close to being a duplicate of this question.

The answers there generally cover what you want to know as well. Basically,

  1. It is questionable whether the US properly agreed to the treaty. It certainly did not follow the normal process, where the Senate ratifies the treaty after the President sends them a written proposal.

  2. Even if the US is bound by the treaty, there are no provisions enforcing it.

TL;DR. So to answer your question: nothing.

It's a voluntary agreement. The consequence of not complying is that other countries might not comply either.

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