The US election is a vote on climate change for the entire world

The climate crisis has become a major question not just for American voters in this US election – but people across the world.

What the next president does or doesn’t do over the next four years will have a profound impact on the whether the world can avert the worst effects of climate change, scientists, policy creators and activists say.

They say the world needs a US president who cares about climate change, for two primary reasons. First, many nations take their signal from US policy, particularly on issues, for example, the climate crisis, which means Washington has a remarkable opportunity to influence. Second, the US is the world’s second-biggest polluter after China, which means it has an ethical obligation to act.

President Donald Trump, during his current administration, has gutted domestic environmental regulations and arrangements designed to limit global warming. Internationally, he has pulled the US out of the landmark Paris climate accord, the only global pact that seeks to maintain a strategic distance from dangerous heating of the planet. And he’s doubted the reasons for climate change. During the final presidential debate on Friday, Trump erroneously claimed said the US has “the cleanest air” and “the cleanest water,” and called India and China “filthy,” a skewered rendition of reality.

His Democratic challenger former Vice President Joe Biden, said at a similar debate that “global warming is an existential threat to humanity. We have an ethical obligation to deal with it.”

Biden’s comments reverberation what the scientists are saying. Global carbon dioxide concentrations – the primary culprit warming the planet – are at higher levels than at any time in human history.

It’s too late to stop all the impacts of climate change. They are already happening. Wildfires have torched homes across the Western US this year, unprecedented floods have inundated large swathes of Asia, and the past decade – featuring deadly heatwaves and droughts – was the hottest ever recorded. The ice covers that bookend our planet are also seeing quick loss and glacial melt.

Under a US president who pushes for climate arrangements, in any case, the world could work toward “negligible, incremental damages” rather than catastrophic ones, said Jonathan Pershing, program director of environment at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, who was the former special envoy for climate change at the US Department of State during the second term of the Obama administration.

Pershing added: “Every succeeding election becomes more and more urgent because the time is shorter to manage those really grievous damages.”

The coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 230,000 and infected 9.1 million people in the US, has exposed that Trump’s administration is hostile to science and decades of research. That endangers lives and vocations, according to Kim Cobb, a professor and researcher of paleoclimate and climate change at Georgia Tech.

“It’s not really the planet anymore. It’s really about people. And that’s something that we as a whole have to awaken to. It’s not about saving polar bears and coral reefs, it’s about us,” Cobb said. “We can essentially not afford to put our heads in the sand about this other lasting global challenge which is a direct threat to our country.”

US President Donald Trump and Democratic Presidential candidate and former US Vice President Joe Biden participate in the final presidential debate in Nashville, Tennessee, on October 22, 2020.

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