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Trump Broke With 194 Countries on the Paris Climate Pact

President Trump committed to withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris Agreement on Thursday, suggesting that the U.S. wasn’t getting a fair deal and unfoundedly claiming that the agreement was designed to allow other nations to “gain wealth at our country’s expense.”

The stated goal of the pact is to keep global warming limited to well below the 2°C threshold that researchers suggest is the safe upper limit of climate change, science that Trump did not mentioned. He left the door open to renegotiating the agreement, which took years of painstaking compromising for nearly 200 countries to reach.

President Trump making remarks on the Paris Agreement in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington on June 1, 2017.
Credit: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

The move follows weeks of arguing within the administration, both for and against the pact. The decision will reverberate well beyond U.S. borders and long after the Trump administration is in the history books.

Withdrawing flies in the face of the spirit of the landmark climate agreement and denies the basic physics of climate change. Trump resisted calls from world leaders, Fortune 500 companies, environmental groups, scientists, climate- and science-engaged civil society, and even voices within his administration urging him to stay in the agreement.

As a result, the U.S. is now on track to be one of three nations not in the landmark accord. Those other countries are Syria, a failed state, and Nicaragua, which didn’t sign in protest because it felt the agreement wasn’t ambitious enough.

In his announcement, Trump falsely claimed other countries were not doing their part to address climate change. Each signatory submitted a non-binding pledge of climate actions it would undertake based on a “common but differentiated responsibilities” approach that’s been the underpinning of international climate talks for years.

As the world’s largest historical emitter of carbon dioxide, the U.S. had committed to reducing its emissions by 26-28 percent by 2025. The U.S. also committed $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund, which helps fund climate adaptation projects in developing countries that are suffering the brunt of climate change despite having caused very little of it. Trump said the fund is “costing the U.S. a vast fortune” though it represents only $9.41 per capita, well below Sweden’s leading $59.31 per capita commitment.

President Trump walks to the Rose Garden at the White House on June 1, 2017.
Credit: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

The decision leaves the rest of world in a position to forge ahead without U.S. leadership. World leaders in Germany, France and Italy issued a joint statement saying the climate pact is not up for renegotiation. China and the European Union also expressed their commitment to redouble efforts.

“Climate change is a worldwide challenge and no nation can stay away,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told China’s biggest newspaper following the announcement. “China will continue to work with the EU to strengthen communication and cooperation on climate change, and push forward the multilateral governance process in this regard.”

Trump had specifically called out China, which set an emissions peak year of 2030. He didn’t acknowledge that China has committed to produce as much clean energy by then as the U.S. does from all sources today.

“Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate agreement will reinforce the view among allies that Trump does not feel constrained by the commitments of past U.S. presidents, particularly his predecessor,” Ken Schultz, a political scientist at Stanford, said. “It will also show that, on some issues at least, he is not going to be swayed by pressure from domestic and international audiences who have urged him to stay in the accord.”

The Eiffel tower is illuminated in green with the words "Paris Agreement is Done" to celebrate the Paris U.N COP21 Climate Change agreement in Paris, France, November 4, 2015.
Credit: REUTERS

There are domestic ramifications as well. The announcement to exit Paris is likely to rally Trump’s base as he moves to fulfill a campaign promise. It follows moves to dismantle climate rules and regulations set in place by the Obama administration, another campaign promise. It also represents a political win for Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt, who was widely viewed as one of the loudest voices in the administration calling for the president to leave the treaty.

In Thursday’s announcement, Trump falsely said that pulling out would help coal miners, but regulations and the climate pact have very little to do with coal’s decline. He also failed to note that solar and wind energy are some of the fastest-growing sectors in the U.S., and that global clean energy investments are at all-time highs.

Beyond the sphere of supporters, conservative think tanks and the nationalist faction of the administration, the decision was largely met with frustration, anger and commitments to redouble actions. Moderate Republicans in Congress and state houses joined a number of business leaders in denouncing the decision.

Trump left the door open to renegotiating the deal and even working with Congressional Democrats, but it’s unclear what his aims would be for creating a more advantageous agreement. It’s also hard to see why Democrats, who have generally championed climate action, would work with Trump on the issue, particularly given the timing of the withdrawal.

Going through the formal mechanisms to pull out of the agreement means the U.S. would officially withdraw on on Nov. 4, 2020, the day after the next presidential election. That’s likely to make climate change a hot-button campaign topic, one where Democrats may have an advantage as majorities of voters favor climate action.

Within the U.S., a number of cities and states have reaffirmed their commitment to clean energy. That includes municipalities like Pittsburg, which Trump repeatedly referenced in his speech, and large states like New York and California.

On Wednesday, New York Mayor Bill deBlasio said on Twitter that he would sign an executive order committing New York to meet the climate goals outlined in the U.S. pledge to the agreement.

“American states, cities, communities, businesses, they’re all in on a clean energy future,” Erika Rosenthal, a lawyer at Earthjustice who monitors climate talks, said. “Trump as our president has forfeited leadership.”

Perhaps lost in all the hoopla around the drawn-out decision process is the reason there’s a Paris Agreement in the first place. Science has shown beyond a doubt that human carbon pollution is causing climate change.

If that pollution isn’t curbed soon, the world is headed for a vastly different climate than the one in which civilization has flourished. Oceans will be higher, hotter and more acidic, heat waves will be more frequent and intense, agricultural zones will change and climate-driven migration and strife will be more common. There’s a finite carbon budget — the amount of emissions we pour into the atmosphere — the world has available before that future gets locked in.

Trump never publicly met with a scientist to discuss the agreement, and he has yet to appoint a science advisor to present what climate change has already done and where the world is heading.

“It is, of course, distressing that Trump has not only rejected the overwhelming scientific evidence but appointed to key posts others who do as well,” Michael Mann, a climate researcher at Penn State, said.

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