State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School


The Paris Climate Agreement: What Trump’s Decision to Leave Means

In light of the Trump administration’s decision to pull out of the 2015 Paris climate agreement, we have collected resources and commentary from across the Earth Institute relevant to the implications, and the basics of the agreement. Continue to check back here as we update this page with new reactions from Earth Institute experts.


Marc Levy, deputy director of CIESIN, writes that leaving the Paris agreement is a more intricate process than what people have been fixating on.

Yochanan Kushnir writes, “as a climate scientist who directly engages in studying the phenomena and mechanisms of climate variability and change I am convinced that we are headed towards a different, and to many people hostile, state of the climate system.”

Earth Institute Executive Director Steven Cohen wrote about the potential impacts of withdrawal on U.S. economy and technology. He has previously argued that renewable energy ultimately will replace fossil fuels regardless of what the United States does, because it makes sense both environmentally and economically. Initiatives will inevitably still be carried out by cities, states and corporations, he says– but withdrawal potentially diminishes America’s standing as an innovator and global leader in green technology.

Michael Gerrard, director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, has previously explained the legal mechanisms of withdrawal. Among other things, formally withdrawing from the pact would take four years. But withdrawing from the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change–the framework underlying the pact–takes only one. In any case, stopping existing action to fight climate change is a much more intricate matter, prospectively fought out in courts, state legislatures and regulatory bodies for years. To track this kind of action, the Sabin Center has developed several databases to keep the public informed. One new database keeps track of environmental actions taken by state attorneys general. Another, the new Climate Deregulation Tracker, keeps tabs on efforts to roll back regulations. And a new worldwide database is tracking changes in climate laws globally.

While there is no legal framework in place to penalize the United States for withdrawal, there are other potential consequences. One main fallout could be the diplomatic and economic empowerment of other nations at U.S. expense. With China and the European Union reaffirming their commitment to the agreement, there is a significant opportunity for China especially to emerge as the undisputed leader in green energy, a recent article on our blog points out.  

Additional Earth Institute scientists and researchers have provided reactions to us here.


New York Today: Keeping Our Climate Promise, New York Times quotes Steven Cohen

What Does U.S. Withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement Mean?, EOS piece co-authored by Robin Bell

A Climate Scientist Explains How Cities Can Counteract Trump’s Paris WithdrawalGothamist interviews Ben Orlove

Trump’s Paris pullout leaves America’s global leadership in flamesNew York Daily News op-ed by Jeffrey Sachs

Trump Pulls US Out of Global Climate Change PactLiveScience quotes Peter deMenocal

What Quitting the Paris Climate Accord Will Do to the U.S., and the PlanetNew York Magazine quotes Geoffrey Heal

Here’s what Earth might look like in 100 years – if we’re luckymsn talks with Gavin Schmidt

Trump quits the Paris climate accord, denouncing it as a violation of U.S. sovereignty, Los Angeles Times quotes Michael Gerrard

Decades From Now, Will Trump’s Paris Decision Matter?, WNYC interviews Radley Horton

Trump joins Syria, Nicaragua after leaving Paris Accord, Insurance Business America talks to Park Williams

The Energy 202: Trump’s Paris speech needs a serious fact check, The Washington Post quotes Michael Gerrard

Bon Voyage to the Paris Accord, WNET interviews Peter deMenocal

What’s next in US withdrawal from Paris Climate AgreementABC News quotes Michael Gerrard

We’ll Always Have Paris: Trump’s Impact on the Climate Agreement, op-ed by Steven Cohen in The Huffington Post


At COP21, the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, 195 countries entered into an agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in an effort to combat the effects of climate change. As of now, the only nonsignatories are Nicaragua (which refused as protest because the pact was considered too weak) and Syria (obviously long been in the throes of an apocalyptic civil war). As part of our coverage of the conference, we explained the goals of the summit and the proposals being made by the participating nations. The final agreement included a series of measures to keep global temperature rise below 1.5℃; our outline of the agreement and its implications at the time found mixed but mostly positive reactions from experts, editorial boards and business leaders. But at least one Earth Institute expert, Scott Barrett, has argued for caution in expecting too much from the pact, because of its many loopholes. 

The Paris agreement was adopted by consensus in December 2015, ratified in October 2016, and went into effect on November 4, 2016. Since then, it has spurred many policy proposals and legal actions. At the 11th Annual Columbia International Investment Conference, hosted by the Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment, some participants argued for the need to renegotiate trade and investment agreements to bring them in line with the Paris climate goals. Participants also discussed whether the Paris agreement would lead to an increase in climate litigation, in which individuals and other stakeholders pursue legal actions against governments and corporations in order to force them to take action on climate change. In fact, a study last month from the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, in partnership with the United Nations Environment Program, has found a significant increase in climate change lawsuits since 2014, saying that “because of the Paris Agreement, plaintiffs can now argue in some jurisdictions that their governments’ political statements must be backed up by concrete measures to mitigate climate change.”

For additional background on United Nations Climate Change Conference agreements, our extensive coverage of the earlier 2009 Copenhagen Accord may be found here.


The future is uncertain. Here is a guide from our blog on what individuals can do to maintain progress in facing climate change.

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Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

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