Article by Zach Dawes, Good Faith Media (Feb. 2, 2021)
Re-entering the Paris climate agreement was among the first actions taken by President Biden following his Jan. 20 inauguration.
One of several executive orders signed on his first day in office began the process for the U.S. to reenter the 2015 Paris Agreement.
The agreement was adopted as part of the Convention of Parties (COP) 21 meeting held in Paris in December 2015, and it officially went into effect in early November 2016. At present, 190 nations are parties to the agreement.
The U.S. signed the paperwork to enter the Paris Agreement in early September 2016 under the Obama administration, which officially took place two months later.
All nations who accepted the terms were bound to remain in the agreement for three years, with a formal withdrawal taking place one year after the U.N. received such notification. This meant that November 2020, four years after the initial agreement was signed, was the earliest time the U.S. could exit the Paris Agreement.
President Trump first announced in June 2017 that the U.S. would withdraw from the agreement and filed the official paperwork to withdraw in November 2019 — an action that officially removed the U.S. in November 2020.
The Trump administration also rolled back many environmental regulations enacted by President Obama and, during Trump’s tenure, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was far less active in pursuing and prosecuting violations of laws enacted to protect the environment.
A mid-January report from the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) analyzing EPA data found “a continuation of a long-term decline in many areas of environmental enforcement in 2020, with some record lows reached under the Trump Administration.”
In addition to the order to re-enter the Paris Agreement, President Biden signed several climate-related executive orders on Jan. 27, which established a White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy and a National Climate Task Force, and launched a Civilian Climate Corps Initiative among other actions.
With Biden’s action on Jan. 20, the U.S. will officially re-enter the Paris agreement on Feb. 19.
Good Faith Media reached out to several faith leaders for their reaction and response to the U.S. re-entering the Paris agreement:
“To my knowledge, there is not a faith tradition that does not commend responsible stewardship of nature and its resources. Certainly, we human beings are among those resources!” said Jack Moline, president of Interfaith Alliance.
“Striving for consensus among the families of humanity on preserving our environment is both profoundly sacred and scientifically wise,” he said. “The Paris Agreement, like all such documents, is certainly not perfect, but re-entering it brings the United States back into the collaborative process of ensuring the longevity of all peoples on this earth and securing the beauty and abundance of it for our children’s children. There is no more basic affirmation of life I can think of.”
“Though Americans comprise just over 4% of the world’s total population, the U.S. is the biggest industrial and commercial power, making us responsible for nearly a third of excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and also making us the second largest polluter in the world,” said Grace Ji-Sun Kim, professor of theology at Earlham School of Religion in Richmond, Indiana, and author of several books, including Hope in Disarray.
“President Biden’s decision to return to the Paris Agreement carries out a campaign pledge, a welcome step in the wake of the former presidency that withdrew from the vital climate pact,” she said. “However, the United States still has a lot of catching up to do. While we may feel reprieved from the former years of blatant climate change denial, we are tasked today as individuals to keep learning and to keep working for climate justice.”
“It is great news that President Biden has begun the process for the US re-entering the Paris Agreement. This is just one of a number of positive moves on climate change that his administration has made since the inauguration,” said Martin Hodson, operations director at The John Ray Initiative in the U.K.
“The news that 2020 tied with 2016 as the warmest year on the instrumental record should motivate us all to greater action,” he said. “This will be a crucial few months as we approach the COP26 United Nations meeting in Glasgow, Scotland, in November 2021. It is very good to have the US back in the vanguard of climate action once more!”
“In his encyclical ‘Laudato Si’ (2015), Pope Francis said, “Never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the last two hundred years”. He also addressed the fact that ‘We still lack the culture needed to confront this crisis.’ When the United States government pulled out of the Paris agreement, Pope Francis’ words rang true that ‘We still lack leadership capable of striking out on new paths and meeting the needs of the present with concern for all,’” said Ron Rolheiser, a Missionary Oblate priest who serves as President Emeritus of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio.
“We live in a world of deep divisions and polarization, people bitterly divided from each other over many issues, including climate change,” he said. “We must respect each other and respect each other’s feelings on this.”
“However, we must also keep in mind that according to scripture and Christian social thought, nature has inherent rights, just as persons do,” Rolheiser said. “We do not grant rights to mother nature, we acknowledge them. We are not free to do whatever we want with nature. We are gardeners, not owners, and a gardener nurtures rather than despoils.”
“American Baptists have long been dedicated to caring for God’s creation. The ‘American Baptist Policy Statement on Ecology: An Ecological Situational Analysis’ was unanimously adopted by the ABCUSA General Board in June of 1989,” said Rebecca Driscoll, ABCUSA Minister for Creation Justice.
“The statement affirms that ‘the threat to the global environment presents American Baptists with a call for prompt and vigorous response,’” she said. “It goes on, ‘as Christians and faithful stewards, we bear the responsibility to affirm and support programs, legislation, research and organizations that protect and restore the vulnerable and the oppressed … this responsibility for a habitable environment is not just for human life, but for all life.’ It is always very encouraging to see others at the local, regional, and national levels committing to the well-being of God’s creation.”
“Christians Caring for Creation (C3) welcomes President Biden’s signing an executive order, returning the U.S. to the Paris Climate Agreement, the road map to address global climate change,” said Don Gordon, founder and CEO of C3. “Of the 195 nations that originally signed the agreement, the U.S. was the only nation to back out.”
“As Christians who believe that science and faith are partners in the search for truth, we see the immediate and imminent effects of climate change, especially on the world’s most vulnerable people,” he said. “Loving God compels us to love God’s creation. Loving our neighbor means that we pay attention to how our collective decisions hurt or help God’s children. This is a crucial step forward in seeking the common good for humanity.”
Zach Dawes Jr Managing editor for news and opinion at Good Faith Media.