After months of delays and rumors of a divided White House, President Trump today announced his intention to withdraw from the international Paris Agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and relinquish his leadership on climate change.
Despite the public statement, the US cannot just leave Paris and go home. Under the terms of the agreement, the US cannot submit its withdrawal until November 2019, and it would not be formally due for another year after that. In the meantime, the Trump administration could choose to skip international talks, but it will still have to file some progress reports required by the deal. Of course, nothing is stopping President Trump from undoing the Obama administration’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, support renewable energy production, or encourage efficiency improvements. The US will also forego the remaining $2 billion of its promised $3 billion contribution (with more in the future) to the Green Climate Fund, designed to help less developed countries deal with the impacts of climate change and invest in renewable energy sources. energy.
There has been much speculation about this decision since the November election, as the issue has not been as simple as a candidate publicly declining that the climate science community wants to pull out of a climate deal. Many within the Trump administration, including Secretary of State and former Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson and Trump’s daughter Ivanka, have advocated staying in the agreement, which was signed by almost every country in the world. In any case, most fossil fuel companies have publicly expressed the same wish, including the (current) CEOs of Shell and Exxon.
Trump would have had little to lose if he had stayed. Primarily because a Republican-controlled US Congress would have blocked a climate treaty, the Paris Agreement was structured around voluntary emissions commitments. The Trump administration could simply have submitted a less ambitious commitment that did little more than bank on a continuation of market and efficiency trends. In fact, like The New York Times notes, some people think Trump could have done more damage to the goals of the Paris Agreement by staying and polishing the works.
Aside from losing a seat at the table, the globalists in Trump’s orbit are worried about the diplomatic ramifications of dropping an agreement the US had previously signed. National leaders at last week’s G7 summit reportedly pressured Trump not to leave, and it’s unclear what effect the decision could have on other agreements. For example, negotiations between the Obama administration and China led to a bilateral climate deal that paved the way for Paris.
In his remarks, President Trump claimed that the US would be open to “renegotiating” the Paris Agreement to get fair terms — essentially a nonsensical statement given that the United States’ terms are voluntary. He also claimed that the reason the world applauded the Paris Agreement was that it would exclusively harm the US for the benefit of every other country.
The consequences of the decision for the Earth’s climate are difficult to describe. If a new government makes a major course correction in four or eight years’ time, the impact could be quite small. An analysis by the team behind the Climate Action Tracker website projects that Trump’s various pro-fossil fuel policies could keep US emissions roughly the same through 2030, which would represent about 2 billion more tons of CO2 at that point2 emitted per year compared to the Obama administration’s policies. (For context, that’s about 30 percent of current U.S. emissions or 4 percent of current global emissions.) The Trump administration’s efforts to support fossil fuels over renewables are facing significant headwinds on the market, but the growth of renewables can certainly be curbed rather than accelerated.
The effect on future negotiations is another question. The Paris Agreement includes five-year milestones that aim to see countries step up on previous commitments. With the US sitting out instead of setting an example, there may be less motivation to improve pledges. This largely depends on energy trends in China and India, and both countries have shown some encouraging signs recently.
China has publicly declared its intention to honor its commitments in Paris regardless of what the US does. “We still believe that all parties should move with the times, seize the opportunities, deliver on their commitments and take seriously proactive steps to jointly push the enforcement of this agreement,” said the spokesman for China’s Ministry of Finance. Foreign Affairs, Lu Kang, in March. “No matter what other countries’ climate change policies are like, as a responsible major developing country, China’s determination, goals and policy moves in dealing with climate change will not change.”
UPDATE: In response to the announcement, both Elon Musk and Walt Disney CEO Robert Iger stated on Twitter that they will end their involvement in advisory boards hosted by the Trump administration.
Am outgoing presidential councils. Climate change is real. Leaving Paris is not good for America or the world.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) June 1, 2017
Out of principle, I resigned from the President’s Council because of the #Paris Agreement recording.
— Robert Iger (@RobertIger) June 1, 2017