Nicaragua will sign the Paris Agreement, leaving only the US and Syria on the sidelines

Soon, the US and war-torn Syria will be the only countries uninterested in participating in the Paris Agreement.

This week, El Nuevo Diario, one of Managua’s major newspapers, reported that Nicaragua’s president, Daniel Ortega, had committed to signing the Paris Agreement. Ortega’s administration had previously opted not to sign on in protest; Nicaragua’s diplomats felt that the deal was far weaker than it should have been.

But Ortega said his decision was prompted by the growing number of climate change-linked problems faced by developing countries around the world.

“We have to be in solidarity with the large number of countries that are the first victims, who are already the victims, and who will continue to suffer the impact of these disasters,” Ortega said, according to El Nuevo Diario. “These are countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean that are in areas that are highly vulnerable.”

A plan is in the works for Nicaragua to join the agreement “soon,” he said. “We have already had meetings addressing the issue.”

In 2013, the World Bank described Nicaragua as a “renewable energy paradise.”

Until recently, the country was heavily dependent on oil, but starting in 2006 it began turning its energy economy inside out.

Nicaragua now gets more than half of its energy from renewable sources, and hopes to reach 90 percent by 2020. It has been helped toward that goal by its volcanoes, a source of geothermal energy that can be harnessed in geothermal plants that use steam from underground magma to turn generators. In recent years, Nicaragua has also become increasingly reliant on wind turbines and solar farms.

In short, Nicaragua is doing its part to prevent climate change, but the Paris Agreement, the country’s diplomats argue, gives larger nations room to continue to drag their feet.

“We have to achieve the objective of 1.5-degree increase in this century, or, at worst, the 2 degrees, And what does this process in Paris lead to? Three degrees,” Dr. Paul Oquist, one of Nicaragua’s representatives at the Paris conference, told Democracy Now in 2015.

“Three degrees Celsius is not acceptable,” he continued. “Three degrees Celsius is a disaster. It’s catastrophic. So, we think that we have to get out of this spin and back to where the problem can be solved.”

Oquist also said, during negotiations, that he wanted the Paris Agreement to allow small countries to be able to seek “compensation for damages” and to have “the right to litigate over legal responsibilities.” On a per-capita basis, residents of only a few countries are responsible for the vast majority of the pollution that causes global warming, and Nicaragua is not one of them.

In his announcement this week, Ortega again criticized the agreement. Scientists have made clear, he said, that the commitments in the agreement would not be enough to reduce global warming. He also criticized it for being nonbinding, saying the countries had “no obligation” to do what they said they would.

Nonetheless, Ortega said Nicaragua would sign on to show solidarity with other small nations that are vulnerable.

Ortega made his announcement as diplomats convened for the UN General Assembly in New York City.

In remarks, world leaders, including Secretary General António Guterres, linked 2017’s devastating hurricane season to climate change. A series of uncommonly powerful storms have wreaked havoc on Caribbean nations that are Nicaragua’s neighbors.

“Reducing carbon emissions must clearly be part of our response, together with adaptation measures,” Guterres said during a high-level meeting on Hurricane Irma, held as Hurricane Maria was gathering strength in the Atlantic. “The rise in the surface temperature of the ocean has had an impact on weather patterns; and we must do everything possible to bring it down.

In his speech to the UN, Donald Trump did not mention climate change.

The UN General Assembly followed a separate meeting, held in Montreal, to discuss the United States’ withdraw from the Paris Agreement. US representatives did attend the meeting, and some apparently gave the EU’s climate commissioner, Miguel Arias Canete, the idea that the US would not withdraw from Paris after all. Canete’s read on the situation was reported by the Wall Street Journal, but the Trump administration immediately moved to quash those rumors, insisting that its plans hadn’t changed.

Because of waiting periods built into the Paris Agreement, the US’s withdraw from it will not be formalized until November 2020 — the same month when Donald Trump will stand for reelection. As UN Dispatch reported in June, if Trump is succeeded by a president with a more favorable view toward the Paris Agreement, the US would likely be able to reenter without much trouble.

In the meantime, Nicaragua’s decision to engage with the agreement — despite it’s dissatisfaction with it — makes the US’s own decision to opt out stand even more starkly in contrast to other nations’ desire to confront the problem together, despite disagreements. When it comes the climate change, the US is increasingly isolated.