Donald Trump announced yesterday evening that the USA would pull out of the Paris climate change agreement. Rejecting the legacy of his predecessor Barack Obama and abdicating US leadership on climate change. The USA now joins Syria and Nicaragua in being the only countries in the world not to sign the accord. It’s a blow to efforts to tackle climate change, but American leadership has been quickly replaced.
“We all share the same responsibility, to make our planet great again” declared the French President, Emmanuel Macron, in response to Trump’s decision. Elegantly and powerfully (not to mention it’s delightfully mocking) demonstrating that the world will go on without the USA. The leaders of France, Germany and Italy made a joint statement reaffirming their strong support for the agreement. The EU is not alone in taking on the mantle of leadership on climate change. China will also take this opportunity after brokering the deal with Obama to become the world leader in tackling climate change. China will make a statement with the EU today in what will become the beginning of the new climate change alliance. Trump said yesterday that he wants to renegotiate the deal, as he believes it is grossly unfair to the USA. However, he has now left the table, and the world is leaving him behind. Even California looks set to break away from a president their governor referred to as ‘AWOL’. For now, the US’s ability to shape efforts to tackle climate change are over.
The US exit is still a significant blow to the Paris agreement. The world’s largest economy is walking away from an ambitious deal that requires a lot from every country. The US exit could pressure other countries to do the same. If the USA, a wealthy nation, is unwilling to bear the cost of cutting its emissions why should poorer developing countries?
Trump’s announcement also brings financial problems. The USA was a major contributor to a fund to help poorer countries meet the Paris agreement’s targets. It was already clear that Trump would slash American contributions to climate change funds, now the US appears unwilling to support much, if anything at all. Now the USA has left, this bill must be picked up by other nations. If wealthy countries don’t pick up the USA’s tab, the pressure on developing countries to leave the deal will grow.
Not to mention that the US accounts for nearly 15% of global carbon emissions, mostly from burning fossil fuels. The Paris agreement’s target of preventing the world from warming more than 2C will be much harder if the USA leaves the deal. Especially since Trump has said he wants the USA to expand its coal mines.
The political, financial and damaging effect on the climate from a US exit is significant. The regret that Trump has left the accord is heartful felt across the world. The world will not wait for America though. Many believe that attempting to include America would do more harm than good, as it would lead to the Paris accord being watered down. Despite the challenges from America abdicating their leadership role on climate change, new leaders have quickly emerged. Trump has miscalculated (assuming he bothered to calculate in the first place) and misunderstood diplomacy. Google, Apple, even Exxon Mobil (a major fossil fuel producer) have urged the President to remain in the accord. They know how important it is to be at the negotiating table, Trump doesn’t, and this should make all of us worry. We should be glad though that when the US is unwilling to lead, the world is not lost in search of new standard bearers. For now, the Paris agreement survives, US credibility though is gone.
Written by William Smith