Because it helps us remember how fast we can undo it.
The Paris Agreement wasn’t written overnight; it was the product of decades of negotiations and debates over which countries needed to do what and when. We brought the global community together around a shared understanding that, ultimately, every one of our nations had to act. The final text is not legally binding. It is rooted instead in mutual accountability. The international community committed to work together for maximum impact. Each country would determine how ambitious its climate policies could be, given its unique circumstances, but all would strive to be as forward-leaning as possible. The countries that needed extra support — in the form of technical or financial assistance — to achieve their goals would get it. And critically, all would report regularly on their progress and hold one another accountable.
I would imagine that most countries thought that the United States would be leading the charge when it came to applying pressure and holding others accountable to their pledges — so did I. Nonetheless, the United States was just one of the 196 parties to adopt the agreement. We can’t allow dysfunction in Washington to give other leaders in the world a free pass to back away from the bold sense of cooperation that permeated our long meetings in Paris. Mutual accountability has never been more important.
I spent Election Day 2016 headed to Antarctica, where I talked with researchers who didn’t mince words. A scientist named Gavin Dunbar described what they’re seeing there as an unmistakable “canary in the coal mine.” He warned that “some thresholds, if we cross them, cant be reversed.” The Trump administration may decide to bet against scientists like Dunbar and his colleagues. But rest assured: Most Americans stand with the world in making a different bet — a bet on science, a bet on reality. We understand that we have to move forward, with or without Washington.
God, he would have been an extraordinary president.