Press release

Paris Agreement withdrawal could isolate “freeriding” US

Published on 6 May 2019

President Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement on climate change could make it an international pariah, a University of Dundee expert believes

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Professor Volker Roeben, from the University’s Centre for Energy, Petroleum and Mineral Law and Policy, believes that signatories to the landmark United Nations agreement will recoil against the United States if it gains an economic advantage on the back of their sacrifices.

The United States’ withdrawal will take effect from November next year and has been met with an overwhelmingly negative international response. With the remaining signatories set to press ahead with efforts to meet the deal’s ambitious targets, Professor Roeben says that President Trump’s decision may have long-term political repercussions.

The topic will be the focus of a session at this year’s Dundee Energy Forum, which takes place from June 10-11, an event that will also feature a keynote speech from OPEC Secretary General Mohammed Barkindo in a rare UK appearance.

Professor Roeben said, “Paris is different from any other international agreement. This is about achieving a change that can only be effective if adopted by all states. It is a historic agreement and there is no plan for dealing with the US if it chooses to go its own way.

“However, there is a risk that the United States could be seen as freeriding on the environmental efforts of others, continuing to pollute heavily as others make sacrifices to curb emissions. This is something that will not be looked upon kindly by the international community and if the US does leave the agreement next year then we could potentially be entering uncharted diplomatic territory.”

The Paris Agreement’s long-term goal is to limit the increase in the global average temperature this century to below 2°C. Signatories are required to implement measures to mitigate global warming while providing regular updates on emissions outputs. Signed by 197 parties in 2015, the deal was bolstered by its adoption by both the United States and China, which together are responsible for an estimated 40% of all global emissions.

However, in August 2017 President Trump signalled his intention to withdraw the United States from the accord, though due to legal obligations the country is bound to the deal until November 4 2020, one day after the next US Presidential Election.

While the President’s decision has attracted widespread criticism, Professor Roeben said that time remains for the Trump administration to change its mind.

“With the treaty there is a notice period and nothing changes until that notice period elapses,” he added.

“If the US decides it wishes to continue with the deal then it can revoke its withdrawal up until the very last moment. However, if the period has elapsed then under international law you can be informally re-admitted. A full re-admission process, much like the UK if it wished to re-join the European Union after Brexit, does not apply with Paris, which could give the international community hope.”

Bringing together key figures in the international energy sector, the Dundee Energy Forum analyses trajectories of policy, law and economics of global energy, providing a platform for debate between often diverse viewpoints.

The event takes place on Monday 10 and Tuesday 11 June at the West Park Centre, Dundee, from 9am – 5pm daily. 


Press Office, University of Dundee
Story category Public interest
Collection Climate Action