Starting with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC hereinafter, 1992) and following with the Kyoto Protocol (1997) and the Paris Agreement (2015), the international community has undoubtedly shown willingness to work towards the same goal, mitigating and possibly preventing climate change. It is no secret, however, that the US has always had a complicated relationship with the aforementioned instruments: even though it did participate in the negotiation and adoption of the UNFCCC,[1]it never ratified (nor withdrawn from) the Kyoto Protocol[2] and in 2017 it became the first country to officially withdraw from the Paris Agreement.[3] This article tries to explain why the nature of this relationship is so complicated and what the recent news about the Biden administration re-joining the Paris Agreement really means for the future of climate change.

It’s complicated

Without delving into the country’s politics too deeply, there is data showing that depending on the party, USvoters think of climate change differently. In fact, a 2014 poll by the Pew Research Center shows that Republicans tend to believe that climate change is not real more so than their Democratic counterpart,[4] and this division exists mostly due to the highly partisan nature of climate change debates. Regardless of the reasons why some people do and some people don’t believe that climate change is real, there is an obvious correlation of voters ideals that happens every four years, the election of a new president. The almost totally bipartisan nature of American politics allows for the winning party’s views on various political issues (even though calling climate change a political issue is a problem on its own) to become the country’s leading view, reflected by policy changes at the federal level (while this is an exaggeration, as bills have to pass through both the House and Senate, it remains somewhat true).[5] This is the reason why former president Donald J. Trump, as someone who did not believe climate change is real,[6] had the road paved ahead of him to withdraw from the Paris Agreement and did so almost effortlessly.[7] The problem lies with the fact that each US president has tried to fight their party’s battle (bolstered by their beliefs), but never succeeded in making any long-lasting impact when it comes to climate change.[8]

The Biden-Harris administration

Since Joe Biden’s inauguration, the highest number of executive orders in the first week of a presidency ever has been signed.[9] While some were aimed at tackling the ongoing COVID-19      pandemic and some other aspects to further his political agenda, the most interesting for the purposes of this article focused on climate change, ranging from the cancelling of the XL Keystone Pipeline to the much talked about re-joining of the Paris Agreement.[10] On top of this, President Biden has brought the biggest team of climate change experts in the White House there ever was, with the hope of not only reversing four years of Trump’s administration weakening climate change rules in favour of fossil fuel companies, but mainly to tackle climate change itself, as it is a central issue in his presidency.[11]

What does this mean for the future?

The re-joining of the Paris Agreement was praised by many countries and by the United Nations, since the USA has always had a complicated history with instruments such as this one.[12] Even though it will take time to officially re-join, and even more time to enact legislation that will act towards the Agreement’s goal, this is a major step for the world. The USA, in terms of COemissions, is the worst polluter in history, only being surpassed by China in recent years.[13] Trying to curb the worst polluter in history’s greenhouse gas emissions will be a challenge seen as the country is heavily reliant on fossil fuels, however, the act in itself will hopefully drive more countries to act more consciously about their own emissions.


[1] https://treaties.un.org/Pages/ViewDetailsIII.aspx?src=IND&mtdsg_no=XXVII-7&chapter=27&Temp=mtdsg3&clang=_en

[2] https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1354066110380964

[3] https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-54797743

[4] https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/09/23/most-americans-believe-in-climate-change-but-give-it-low-priority/

[5] https://www.theodysseyonline.com/problem-with-bipartisan-system

[6] https://time.com/5622374/donald-trump-climate-change-hoax-event/

[7] Supra note 3

[8] See the Clinton administration failing to get the Senate’s approval to ratify the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 or the Obama administration failing to block the US withdrawing from the Paris Agreement in a future administration https://sites.psu.edu/mistrickblog/2013/02/21/kyoto-protocol-good-intentions-failed-legislation/

[9] https://nypost.com/2021/01/26/biden-signs-record-number-of-executive-actions-in-first-week/

[10] https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/20/climate/biden-paris-climate-agreement.html

[11] https://www.cnbc.com/2021/01/20/biden-inauguration-us-rejoins-paris-climate-accord.html

[12] https://unfccc.int/news/un-welcomes-us-announcement-to-rejoin-paris-agreement

[13] https://www.reuters.com/news/picture/who-are-the-worlds-biggest-polluters-idusrtxrksi