What you heard:

Donald Trump plans to (probably) withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement.

What it is:

The Paris Agreement is part of the United Nations Framework on Climate Change. 195 nations took part in negotiations during the fall of 2015, and came to consensus on December 12. The treaty opened for signatures on Earth Day of 2016 (cute). As of today, 195 nations have signed, and 147 have ratified it (meaning it’s been through the official legislative process or other individual national requirements). The treaty’s provisions are slated to begin in 2020.

Overall, the Paris Agreement lays out a variety of commitments signatories pledge to hold themselves to in order to slow global warming. Some of the ways to keep us from becoming a burning barren rock include:

  • Nationally determined contributions. Each country sets a yearly greenhouse-gas-emissions goal for itself; limits are expected to get stricter and stricter over time. Notably, there is no legal framework for holding nations accountable to their goal.
  • $100B/year in climate financing. This money is mostly benchmarked to help developing nations adapt to new conditions under climate change and mitigate the negative effects.
  • Addressing losses & damages. Similar to the above, but without monetary goals, this part of the agreement promotes studies and innovation that will help determine global liability for the disastrous effects of climate change.

What it means:

The Paris Climate Agreement, much like the Kyoto Protocol, is a landmark treaty that identifies climate change as an imminent global threat and seeks to address it. Withdrawing from the Agreement is turning a blind national eye to not only science, but the suffering of those who live in the – mostly impoverished and developing – nations affected. On a less-important but still annoying level, the “will-he-or-won’t-he” tactics of the Administration as it comes to staying or withdrawing show that the US government is still being run like a goddamn reality show.

What could happen:

Think about the things that are already happening: the Great Barrier Reef is dying, sea ice is melting and taking polar bear homes along with it, and the weather is generally insane no matter where you live. File those things under “Not going to stop happening”.

Thankfully, even as the US abdicates its role as a world leader, others are stepping up. China and the EU have both recently re-affirmed their commitment to the Paris Agreement. Even corporations are working to limit their emissions, and have expressed support for the Agreement. Even Exxon-fucking-Mobil is lobbying the government to stay in the Agreement.

In another promising move, states across the nation are taking steps at a legislative level to limit emissions within their borders. California passed a 2016 law requiring sharp reductions in emissions, and is on track to be at 1990 levels by 2020. Washington state has the Clean Air Rule, which requires major carbon-emitters to reduce their impact. The western states will lead the revolution, you guys.

When Obama signed on to the Paris Agreement, he set a goal of reducing emissions 26-28% from 2005 levels by 2025. Maybe we’ll still get there. Even if we don’t get there – maybe we’ll be close.

Or maybe by 2025 the entire continent of Africa will be a desert full of starving people, oceans will be warm as hot tubs, and a majority of the world’s wildlife will be extinct.