President Trump has now confirmed what many had feared — that he would withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accord. The move was no surprise, considering his history of denying climate change . He previously called it “a hoax,” “created by the Chinese.”
Why is Trump’s action seen as dramatic, and what does it mean for our future?
The 2015 Paris Climate Accord was an historic international agreement between 196 countries to work together against the calamitous threat of climate change. The main provisions of the agreement are:
- * To stop the “increase in global average temperature to well below 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels” (about 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).
- * For developed countries to collectively supply a minimum of $100 billion to the Green Climate Fund to help developing countries adapt to the effects of climate change caused by large polluters, and to switch from fossil fuels to green energy.
- * For each country to set its own rules and regulations to help reach the above goals, and to submit a concrete plan by 2020.
To most people, these provisions seem highly beneficial for our entire planet. It’s straightforward: everyone must prioritize the protection of our environment and work together to reduce excessive polluting. Trump’s expressed reasons for pulling out demonstrate his lack of understanding as to the terms and effects of the accord:
- He claimed the agreement created “massive legal liability…” for the U.S. This is untrue. If the U.S. were not to follow through on its promises in the agreement, the sole consequence would be “shame” from other countries.
- He claimed the agreement could cost the U.S. “close to $3 trillion in lost GDP and 6.5 million industrial jobs…” Almost certainly untrue. These figures are based on a report by the National Economic Research Associates (NERA) that has been discredited for not taking into account the economic benefits of reducing emissions and increasing green energy.
- He claimed the agreement is unfair to the U.S. because it allows other countries to continue to generate emissions at a level far higher. This is misleading. In actuality, each country sets its own restrictions on carbon emissions. It is true that if the U.S. wants to effect change, we would cut our emissions drastically (particularly given the very high level of the U.S.’s contribution to the crisis), even if it’s more than what other countries decide for themselves.
Other factors that may have played a part in Trump’s decision:
- Strengthening his political base by continuing his “America First” mantra (appearing to defend U.S. jobs and interests).
- The anti-climate politics of his close advisor Steve Bannon, and EPA head Scott Pruitt. Yes, there are still many climate-deniers out there, and they can hold office and deny science at the same time. And there are also those for whom denying climate change is simply a convenient means of fighting environmental restrictions that limit corporate profits.
- Trump’s campaign promise and determination to dismantle Obama-era regulations (even if it means dismantling the earth at the same time).
- Pressure from Republican senators to exit the agreement, expressed in a letter to the president a week before his decision.
While Donald Trump has pledged “America first!”, in pulling out of the agreement he allows America to fall very much behind. He abdicates the global leadership position the U.S. had assumed through historic global cooperation on climate, with China now taking its place. China is already “the largest player in wind energy,” a rapidly expanding field offering tremendous economic growth.
In response to the president’s actions, former New York City mayor and UN Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change, Michael Bloomberg, has spearheaded efforts of cities, states, and corporations to commit to the Paris Climate Accord and reduce greenhouse emissions by at least 26 percent by 2025. More than 200 cities, 13 states, 82 universities and colleges, and 1,100 companies — including Disney, Goldman Sachs, and Apple — have signed onto the coalition effort entitled “We Are Still In.” The still-growing coalition of 1,400 participants stated that Trump’s decision “undermines a key pillar in the fight against climate change” and is “out of step with what is happening in the United States.” Together they agreed to continue to keep U.S. promises to fight climate change — despite the president’s actions.
So, there is still hope that our planet can be saved. Just not by the U.S. president.