It’s rare to find consensus on global issues. In today’s world, global opinions and positions are colored by politics and self interest. This fractured jostling is part of what made the Paris Agreement so groundbreaking. This pledge was signed almost unanimously by every nation on earth, with only two dissenting. Nicaragua did so out of frustration that the agreement did not go far enough in demanding progress. Syria is a fractured nation rocked by civil war and outside intervention in the grasp of an authoritarian regime that casually attacks its own citizens with chemical weapons. But now, Trump has announced his intention to join these two nations by withdrawing the United States from the Agreement.
It has been difficult for people with any actual knowledge about climate change and the Paris Agreement to justify his actions. For the most part, praise has come from those who are irrevocably tied to his success: Republicans. Whether it be in the House, Senate, or members of his staff, they continue to bail water from the sinking ship that is the Trump administration. Amidst almost daily scandals and widely criticised state visits, this latest announcement faces protest and strong disagreement from the industries it claims to protect.
The CEO of Exxon, Darren Woods, who took the position after Rex Tillerson departed for a place in Trump’s administration, wrote an open letter acknowledging the dangers of climate change, along with possible options for averting the looming danger. He even sent a letter to the White House, urging the administration to remain committed to the Paris Agreement.
Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs, took to twitter for the first time ever to fire a shot at Trump’s decision. Elon Musk, leader of SpaceX and Tesla, along with Bob Iger, chairman and CEO of Disney, promptly resigned from his Strategic and Policy Forum in protest.
World leaders also joined in on announcing their displeasure at Trump’s rejection of cooperation. The French President Emmanuel Macron, who Trump had experienced a tense handshake with during their first meeting, tweeted a mockup of Trump’s infamous Make America Great Again, urging leaders to focus on the world as a whole instead. Even former president Obama released a statement, a diplomatic barb that sought to assure the people that “Even in the absence of American leadership; even as this Administration joins a small handful of nations that reject the future; I’m confident that our states, cities, and business will step up and do even more to lead the way, and help protect for future generations the one planet we’ve got.”
We’ve already seen business leaders of the world publicly commit to the innovation and expansion of technology and measures that Trump has rejected, but, just as Obama hoped, America is not allowing itself to be pulled from the Agreement without a fight. City leaders from all over the country announced their intentions to remain in accordance with the Agreement, despite federal opposition. Ten governors have also declared their commitment to combating climate change. Most promising is California has chosen to invest in the future, siding against Trump. California has strict environmental regulations already in place. With such stringent measures, and a lucrative market, it has de facto set the standard for the automotive industry, since ensuring all cars are compliant with their standards is more cost efficient than producing specific California models. This means that it is more than likely car companies will continue to refine and perfect fuel efficiency and emission cutting measures.
Trump’s reasoning for pulling from the Agreement is, to put it gently, flawed. He cited a National Economic Research Associates report that claimed America would lose nearly 3 million jobs due to pursuing the Paris Agreement. This number looked only at lost jobs and revenue, without an eye for the benefits of emissions reductions or technological innovations that would drastically cut costs. The fact that this industry analyst was founded by a conservative economist, with a slanted view of environmental policy, did not seem to matter.
He bemoaned that the Agreement let China “do whatever they want for 13 years.” This is a barely informed ‘technically correct’ statement. As all signatories set their own goals and deadlines, China can do as it wishes in much the way America can. While he blasts China in his speech for the increase in emissions the country will produce in the coming years, he has not taken the time understand just why, and what it means.
China, and other nations that are still industrializing large swathes of their population, were the target of unfair demands during previous attempts at climate resolution. Leaders of already developed nations, like the U.S. demanded that all countries cut emissions across the board, leaving potentially billions of citizens in a pre-industrial revolution country. With the Paris Agreement, these nations were instead allowed to continue industrializing, building coal plants and moving their infrastructure into the modern world, all the while laying the groundwork for greener options. Indeed, some reports suggest China has already surpassed peak coal usage, even earlier than they aimed to when they signed the Agreement. China, India, and other countries that do not enjoy the standard of living a modern country affords, were allowed to reach those goals under the Paris Agreement, and be well placed to shift to clean energy afterwards. Trump saw that someone other than the United States benefited in some way and claimed the entire deal ‘unfair’ to the American people. It wasn’t designed to be fair to just Americans. It was designed to be fair to humanity.
He turned to India, warning that the nation’s participation is “contingent on receiving billions and billions and billions of dollar in foreign aid from developed nations. There are many other examples. But the bottom line is that the Paris Accord is very unfair at the highest level to the United States.” Again, this is based on a cursory glance and complete lack of understanding. Through various funds and programs, the signatories of the Paris Agreement look to work together to bring the world to a level field of advancement, so that all of mankind could benefit from the efforts to reduce climate change. Trump sees that America is contributing to these funds and proclaims it harmful. He does so ignoring the benefits of reduced emissions, along with the goodwill and political capital of such moves, as well as being at the head of emerging industries and technologies. Long before Paris, renewables were becoming cheaper and more efficient, all the while typical fuels such as oil and coal required ever more expensive extraction methods to reach dwindling deposits around the world. The writing was on the wall long before Paris. Trump appears to be the only one who hasn’t seen it.
Another sticking point, according to Trump, was that the Agreement allowed other nations to build coal plants while disallowing America from doing the same. Of course, there is no such stipulation in the Agreement. The U.S. has previously committed to reducing reliance on coal, which is where this claim comes from. The Agreement did not force the United States to do so; America willingly chose to pursue that goal. Trump’s claims of rampant emissions from other countries ignores facts, like the reality that China recently chose to cancel the construction of over 100 coal plants. Yet still he claimed the Agreement “doesn’t eliminate coal jobs. It just transfers those jobs out of America and the United States, and ships them to foreign countries.”
Most surprising, the entire Agreement was nonbinding. Nations were allowed to set their own goals and deadlines, and there were no measures in place to ensure those deadlines were met, nor punishment for failing to do so. Withdrawing from the Agreement will be a four year process. Trump could simply ignore the Agreement and face no consequence. Instead, he planted a lightning rod and urged the world to rally against him. Thankfully, it has done so.
Trump’s speech was rambling, perplexing, and every justification he could make was refuted easily by either fact, or the voices of people he claimed to speak for. He hammered on the idea of pulling out to the betterment of the American economy. He chose to ignore the damage to America globally. An overwhelming majority stands united, with America crossing its arms and refusing to play along. There are vast amounts of political capital to earn in opposing Trump, and telling the world it doesn’t matter as much as the bank accounts of America’s elites has given world leaders the perfect opportunity to undermine American hegemony across the globe. China, often a target of Trump during his speech, is poised to rapidly increase its sphere of influence, all by doing nothing but what they were already. This Agreement will take years of collaboration, and if it achieves its goals despite Trump’s decision to sit on the sidelines, America will face a world that has realized it can work without them. As always, when Trump claims to be acting in America’s interest, expect the nation to suffer for it.