President Donald Trump has announced that the United States will be pulling out of the Paris Accord on climate change to “put American workers first.” The Paris Climate Agreement, reached in 2015, largely credited to the role of former U.S. President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping of China, was the first time in history heads of state from across the world came together to legally ratify action against climate change with the United Nations Framework Convention. This resulted in 195 countries signing onto curb their emissions and 147 ratifying it. The United States now joins Syria and Nicaragua as the only non-signatory nations in the world. Trump has been vocal in his opposition to the Paris Agreement since the early days of his campaigning and had previously referred to climate change as a “hoax,” “a money-making industry,” and a “very expensive form of tax.” Trump’s withdrawal is of major concern because the US is the second highest polluter country in the world, second only to China. Therefore, for many people, the success of the Paris agreement hinges on the support from both U.S. and China.
Trump’s opposition to the Paris deal is rooted in his belief that it is simply not in the best interests of the U.S. or in line with his ‘America First’ doctrine. He argues that the agreement puts the U.S. at a disadvantage whilst simultaneously benefiting other countries and links the agreement to job losses and factory closures in the U.S. Trump advocates for a re-negotiation of the agreement for a “fair” deal for the U.S. This idea has already been shot down in a joint statement by Germany, Italy and France who do not want the treaty to be renegotiated. For the rest of the world, Trump’s decision has the potential to undermine the agreement, as the remaining 196 countries will have to accept they will be responsible for making up the shortfall in emissions cuts with the U.S. withdrawal, and in addition there is the danger of other countries following suit and abandoning the agreement. Trump’s decision to back out undeniably has huge impacts on the goals of the Paris Treaty, one of which is to limit global warming to ‘well below’ 2 degrees Celsius or to 1.5 degrees Celsius if possible. NGO Climate Interactive predicts that if the US is to return to its typical emissions level, the U.S. alone could contribute 0.3 degrees Celsius by the end of this century which would take global temperature levels to above the 2 degrees Celsius target.
Trump’s decision does have serious implications for the Paris deal itself, but does not single-handedly derail the ever-growing global movement to fight climate change. The states of California, New York and Washington have already said they will not be abandoning the Paris deal in spite of Trump’s withdrawal. California Governor Jerry Brown has ensured that despite Trump going “AWOL,” California will “resist this misguided and insane course of action” and continue to work with China and other countries to reduce their emissions. On a more global scale, the former UN climate chief Christiana Figueres believes “states, cities, corporations, investors have been moving in this direction for several years and the dropping prices of renewable versus high cost of health impacts from fossil fuels guarantees the continuation of the transition.” Hence, it is clear the world will suffer to some extent from Trump’s decision, but it will be the U.S. who will lose out the most in this situation as experts such as Professor John Schellnhuber, Chair of the German Advisory Council on Global Change, believe an anti-climate stance will be of most harm to the American economy and society. As Europe and China race ahead in green and sustainable development, Trump will need to wake up to the harsh reality of climate change and that he has put America on the wrong side of history in the fight against climate change and push towards sustainability.