The announcement by United States President Donald Trump last Thursday that the US will be withdrawing from the historic Paris Agreement to combat climate change is regrettable.
This reflects an abdication of global responsibility the US (like all countries of the world) has to reduce emissions and to adapt to the adverse effects of climate change: not just for present generations but also for future ones.
Previous US administrations, states, cities, scientific organisations, civil society, businesses and citizens have made an outstanding contribution to the fight against climate change.
The current position of the Trump administration is a blight on this otherwise excellent track record — and it is hoped the US government will reconsider its decision.
The announcement is also contrary to the spirit of multilateralism, the rule of law and trust between nations.
The Paris Agreement was the culmination of a four-year negotiation process known as the ADP (Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action) at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP17) which was held in Durban, South Africa,
It represents the best possible flexible and dynamic approach to keeping global temperature increases well below 2°C, and is a victory for multilateralism.
This historic agreement entered into force far earlier than expected due to the extraordinary speed of ratification by parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, including the US.
The agreement was adopted 15 years after the withdrawal of the US from the Kyoto Protocol to reduce greenhouse gases, and reflects the scientific consensus on the severity of the climate change crisis.
To date, 147 countries have ratified it, with South Africa having done so in November 2016.
Trump’s words at last Thursday’s announcement, that the Paris Agreement disproportionately disadvantages the US, is regrettable, considering that the US has historically been a significant contributor to global emissions.
It follows, therefore, that the country has a moral obligation not only to lead in reducing emissions, but also to support poorer economies in contributing to the global effort.
It is scientifically established that, although the effects of climate change are widespread, they disproportionately burden the poor and most vulnerable in developing countries.
There is clearly overwhelming consensus in the international community that climate change is the single biggest threat to wellbeing, health and socioeconomic development facing humanity this century.
Climate change is a global problem, requiring a global solution, which can only be effectively addressed multilaterally, under the broad-based legitimacy of the UN framework convention.
The convention is one of three Rio conventions to which there are 196 state signatories, and sets out obligations for all countries to reduce emissions, adapt to the unavoidable adverse effects of climate change and report on national implementation.
Importantly, it contains an implicit recognition of both the vulnerability of poorer countries to the effects of climate change and the right of poorer nations to economic development.
The success of the Paris Agreement hinges heavily on the extent to which developed countries, historically bear the responsibility for the majority of the world’s climate change-causing emissions, are able to meet their commitment to developing countries, which have historically been low emitters.
During all the international climate change negotiations, South Africa emphasised that the principles of the convention must apply throughout — in particular the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.
The agreement, which will be fully operational by 2020, is premised on contributions determined by countries themselves towards collectively agreed global goals. So what Trump has said — that decisions were imposed on the US — would be inaccurate.
The negotiations that led up to the adoption of the Paris Agreement were characterised by global solidarity and common purpose, and culminated in a pact that was fair, ambitious, effective and durable. This was in implicit acknowledgement that climate change is a global problem requiring a global solution that could only be reached through multilateralism.
We have full confidence that the momentum of the collective effort to address climate change will only accelerate, and that the withdrawal by the US will not stop years of hard work. We congratulate some developed countries that have resisted succumbing to a call for renegotiations.
South Africa reiterates its un-wavering commitment to the realisation of the goals set out in the convention and the Paris Agreement.
The global effort to curb climate change and address its effect cannot be postponed.
There is an urgent need for action, and there is no space for renegotiation.
Edna Molewa is the minister of environmental affairs