The United States officially withdrew from the Paris Agreement Wednesday, the first country to leave the global climate change pact as it awaits final results of a close presidential election.
The action comes three years after President Donald Trump said he would pull out of the accord that is intended to fight climate change.
Nearly 200 countries remain committed to the 2015 agreement, which has a goal of preventing the earth’s average temperature from increasing two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
Scientists have predicted that temperature increases above 2 degrees Celsius could devastate large parts of the world with rising sea levels, more tropical storms and more intense floods and droughts.
The international effort to control global warming will become more difficult to achieve without the participation of the U.S., the world’s second largest emitter of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases.
The Trump administration has supported the fossil fuel industry while spurning federal measures to reduce emissions, leaving U.S. states, cities and businesses to move forward with their own climate change initiatives.
The U.S. withdrawal from the accord could be temporary if Democrat Joe Biden wins the presidential election. Biden has said he supports rejoining the accord and has proposed a $1.7 trillion plan to achieve net zero carbon emissions in the U.S. by 2050.
Wageningen University climate change scientist Niklas Hohne, who is also a member of the simulation group Climate Action Tracker, tweeted that “Indeed this election could be a make or break point for international climate policy. Biden’s climate plan alone could reduce temperature increase in the order of 0.1°C. Every tenth of a degree counts.”