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Fact Sheet on Environmental Damage by the US

2020/10/19

As the most advanced developed country in the world today, the United States has a poor track record in the environmental field. It has not only backpedaled on its domestic environmental protection policies but also seriously undermined the fairness, efficiency and effectiveness of global environmental governance. It is widely viewed as a consensus-breaker and a troublemaker. With regard to what it has done to the environment, the US has yet to justify itself to its own people and to other people in the world.

1. On Greenhouse Gas Emissions. Historically, the US has been the world's largest emitter with the most greenhouse gas emissions in cumulative terms. Between 1751 and 2010, emissions from US energy and industrial sectors accounted for 27.9% of the global total. Cumulative emissions from the US are about three times that of China. Today, the US is the second largest emitter in the world with about 15% of global carbon emissions. In per capita terms, the US has long been among the biggest carbon emitter, registering 14.6 tons of per capita CO2 emissions from fossil fuel in 2017, 3.3 times the global average and more than twice that of China. The US also has the largest cumulative aviation emissions in the world.

2. On Climate Change.

Major retrogression on climate change. The Trump administration has repeatedly called global warming a hoax, challenging the international consensus on climate change. The Trump administration scrapped the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan, kept relaxing environmental restrictions on the development of the fossil fuel industry, and rescinded climate-related policy measures of the executive branch. According to The New York Times, since the Trump administration took office, nearly 70 major environmental policies have been reversed, revoked or otherwise rolled back and more than 30 additional rollbacks are still in progress. This is expected to greatly increase greenhouse gas emissions and the death toll resulted from air pollution. US environmental protection agencies such as the US Natural Resources Defense Council have filed a number of lawsuits against the Trump administration over lowering environmental standards and causing related environmental issues. Due to the negative stance of the US, the leaders' declarations of the G20 summits failed to reach consensus on climate change for three consecutive years starting from 2017, and each time the "19+1" approach was adopted as a compromise.

Withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. On 1 June 2017, the Trump administration announced that the US would withdraw from the Paris Agreement and cease implementing its Nationally Determined Contributions. On 4 November 2019, the US officially launched the withdrawal procedure. Pursuant to the withdrawal clause, the US will formally withdraw from the Agreement on 4 November 2020, making it the only party to withdraw thus far. The US failure to ratify the Kyoto Protocol and its withdrawal from the Paris Agreement have seriously undermined global climate governance and cooperation.

Insufficient implementation of climate action commitments. After the ratification of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in October 1992, US emissions continued to grow rapidly on an upward trajectory that lasted for 15 years. In 2010, the US pledged to cut its economy-wide carbon emissions by 17% from 2005 levels by 2020. Nevertheless, as of the end of 2018, the US only managed to bring its greenhouse gas emissions 10.2% lower than its 2005 figure, barely meeting its 60% emission reduction target. In 2017, the Trump administration reneged on the US commitment by announcing its refusal to meet its climate action goal of 26-28% emissions reduction below 2005 levels by 2025. For three consecutive years since 2018, the US has refused to fulfill its obligations of submitting Biennial Reports and National Communication.

Failure to honor funding commitments. In the history of the Global Environment Fund (GEF), the US holds the largest share of contributions arrears, which stand at US$111 million, or 95.7% of the total arrears. Since taking office, the Trump administration has announced a suspension of US funding to the Green Climate Fund (GCF), and refused to provide the outstanding US$2 billion committed by the Obama administration. The US has repeatedly blocked projects for developing countries citing unfounded reasons such as human trafficking and human rights violations, thus seriously undermining the developing countries' right to use the funding. Since 2018, the US has stacked up over €13.547 million in deferred contributions to the UNFCCC.

3. On Biodiversity. The US has not ratified the Convention on Biological Diversity. Nor has it acceded to the three important protocols on biodiversity, namely the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from Their Utilization, the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, and the Nagoya-Kuala Lumpur Supplementary Protocol on Liability and Redress. It has stayed completely outside the global biodiversity conservation cooperation system.

4. On Protecting Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. On 12 August 2019, the US government formally approved the revision of key provisions in the Endangered Species Act to remove legal obstacles for commercial activities such as mining and oil and gas exploration in wildlife habitats, thus reducing protection of endangered species. The US has the world's largest captive tiger population, but regulation is lacking in this area. While the US is the primary force pushing behind the scene for the elevation of eight pangolin species from Appendix II to Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), only Temminck's ground pangolin (manis temminckii) has been listed among endangered species in the US.

5. On Wildlife Trafficking. The US is one of the largest destinations of wild animals trafficking and one of the major consumers of their products. According to the World Wildlife Crime Report released by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), North America accounted for 38.5% of the shared data on world wildlife confiscation from 2005 to 2018. The US is the largest trafficking destination country for aquatic turtles, tortoises, lions and their products, and sea cucumbers listed in CITES appendices. The US is also a major shark fishing country and sells a large number of products such as shark oil, seriously damaging shark resources. In recent years, the US has fished and exported a large number of sharks. In 2018 alone, the US exported nearly 3 million kilograms of shark meat and shark fins. While calling on others to join in the global fight against illegal wildlife trade, the US has evaded the question of its importing of live African elephant (loxodonta africana) and MacDonald's weakfish(totoaba macdonaldi)listed in CITES Appendix I, and its involvement in ivory trade.

6. On Waste Management. As the world's largest exporter of solid waste and a major consumer of plastic in per capita terms, the US has not ratified the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal, impeding the global management and control of plastic waste and frustrating the adoption of relevant amendments aiming to strengthen the regulations. The US has long taken developing countries whose handling capacity are still inadequate as the final dumping site of plastic waste, disregarding the environmental interests and people's health of these developing countries. According to a report released by the NGO Basel Action Network (BAN), US companies are still illegally exporting hazardous electronic waste to developing countries in 2020. Since July 2017 when China began to include plastic waste and other imported hazardous wastes into its Catalog of Prohibited Imports of Solid Waste, the US has attacked China's legitimate policy of not importing those wastes, and even asked China to revoke the ban for the single purpose of finding a way out for their own wastes.

7. On Chemical Management. The US has not yet ratified three major international chemical conventions, namely, the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal, the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade, and the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, and thus has long stayed free from restrictions and controls prescribed in those conventions. The United Nations Environment Program's Global Mercury Assessment shows that more than 50%-60% of mercury emissions are re-emissions from the past. Among them, emissions before the 19th Century were far greater than those since the 20th Century, mainly caused by gold or silver mining in the Americas.

8. On Combating Desertification. The Global Land Outlook shows that irrigated farmlands in western US and pastures in the central and southern US are facing pressures of degradation. According to a report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), bush encroachment has taken place in the grasslands in western US and is spreading at a faster speed. The outstanding contributions of the US to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification from 1999 to 2019 have reached a total of more than €3.058 million.

9. On Forest Management. From 1989 to 2018, a total of 2,210,546 wildfires broke out in the US, burning 68,059,232 hectares of land, registering a 0.6% annual increase of the number of fires and a 5.7% annual increase of area burned. In the past 30 years, the total number of wildfires in the US is 11.5 times that of China, and the area burned is 10.9 times. By the time of the release of this Fact Sheet, wildfires in California have been burning for nearly two months, spreading over 16,000 square kilometers. As a result, air pollution went off the charts multiple times, and carbon emissions are beyond imagination. Statistics show that just this year, more than 8,200 wildfires have occurred in California, claiming more than 30 lives and destroying over 8,400 buildings.

10. On Illegal Logging. Per capita timber consumption in the US in 2018 was 1.73 cubic meters, which was nearly three times of the world's average of 0.61, and four times that of China. Illegal logging and deforestation are rampant in the US. Statistics from the US Forest Service show that illegal logging accounts for 10% of timber produced every year in the US, causing huge economic losses to forest owners and state-owned forests, and severe damage to the local environment. At the same time, the US imports a large amount of timber from unknown sources, which has emboldened illegal logging.

11. On Water Pollution. In the US, water resources are poorly managed, water conservancy infrastructure is in disrepair, and floods and droughts are frequent. Water sources are polluted and the supply of clean drinking water is insufficient. The water ecological environment is deteriorating, as evidenced by the annual outbreaks of large-scale cyanobacterial and water blooms and the long-term pollution of underground aquifer.

12. On Methane Leaks. Shale gas mining in the US has created a large quantity of methane gas leakage, which is a huge environmental hazard. According to the assessment report of IPCC, methane is 25 times stronger than carbon dioxide as a heat-trapping gas. In August 2020, the US Environmental Protection Agency made substantial amendments to its regulations on methane leak management, further loosening requirements on oil and gas mining companies. This has caused strong opposition from many American pro-environment institutions.

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