A Shameful Act: President Trump’s Likely Withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement

June 1, 2017 | 8:26 am
UCS/Anthony Eyring
Rachel Cleetus
Policy Director

UPDATE (June 1, 4:00 p.m.): President Trump has officially announced the US withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement. For more, please see President Trump’s Epic Fail on Paris by Alden Meyer, UCS director of strategy and policy.

There have been strong indications for a while now that the Trump administration intends to pull the US out of the Paris Agreement. Yesterday President Trump tweeted that he would announce his decision this afternoon.

At a time when the threat posed by unchecked climate change has never been clearer, withdrawing from the Paris Agreement would be a shameful act and painfully hard to comprehend. Even at this late juncture, one hopes that better sense will prevail—else it will be a sad day for the global community.

No matter what the president decides, however, there is no question that the rest of the world is determined to forge ahead and fulfill their commitments under the Paris Agreement.

A hard-won historic agreement

Much has been written about the historic Paris Agreement, but one thing bears repeating. It is no small feat to get 195+ nations to agree on anything, climate or otherwise, and so clearly there were some compelling reasons why they did so.

Simply put, it’s this: Nations clearly saw that it was in their best interests to limit the harmful and costly impacts of climate change and embrace the opportunities of a clean energy economy.

International geopolitics being what they are, even those compelling reasons may not have been enough if not for the leadership that some countries showed—including the US, China, and the small island nations most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

US leadership in particular was crucial in laying the groundwork for, and securing, the Paris Agreement. If President Trump chooses to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, we will cede that leadership to others; and along with it the ability to shape the global community’s response to one of the most pressing challenges of our time.

The Paris Agreement will survive

What’s clear is that other countries are determined to move ahead on climate action, regardless of what the Trump administration chooses to do. The rest of the G7 nations made that clear after their summit last week. Tomorrow the EU and China are expected to announce an alliance with renewed commitment to strong climate action. India has also reaffirmed its commitment to the agreement.

In a speech earlier this year, President Xi of China clearly emphasized the importance of upholding the commitments of the Paris Agreement and has underscored his country’s intention to stay the course, saying:

“The Paris Agreement is a milestone in the history of climate governance. We must ensure this endeavor is not derailed. All parties should work together to implement the Paris Agreement. China will continue to take steps to tackle climate change and fully honor its obligations.”

And the biggest reason why the Paris Agreement will survive? It embodies the hopes of millions of people around the world and right here in the US. Faith groups, labor groups, business leaders, environmental justice groups, health professionals, scientists, youth groups… you name it, they all came out in force to make sure their political leaders signed on to the agreement.

Just last month hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in the Peoples Climate March.

The vast majority of the global community that wants climate action will ultimately have the last say.

US clean energy progress will continue

Market trends such as the plummeting costs of renewable energy, renewable electricity and energy efficiency policies at the state level, local and business clean energy commitments, and the federal renewable energy tax credits will continue to drive progress on reducing the carbon emissions that cause climate change.

The fact is that the costs of wind and solar energy are falling dramatically, and these power sources are becoming more and more attractive in the market place. That’s why new renewable energy deployment has outpaced additions of all other new energy sources, including natural gas, in recent years.

Nationwide the clean energy momentum in states is palpable. Many US cities  and businesses have also made significant commitments to clean energy.

CO2 emissions from the power sector in 2016 were nearly 25 percent below 2005 levels. Based on the latest (2017) GHG inventory, US net GHG emissions in 2015 were 5827.7 MMT CO2e. This is approximately 11.5 percent below the 2005 net GHG emissions of 6582.3 MMT CO2e, and about 40 percent of the way toward meeting the 2025 US NDC of a 26-28 percent cut relative to 2005 emissions.

But there’s no denying that we need new and strengthened national policies to accelerate this clean energy momentum and drive down global warming emissions to bring them in line with climate goals.

Now is the time to double down on clean energy and climate progress.

But for now America loses

Withdrawing from the Paris Agreement would leave the US at a disadvantage in joining the global clean energy revolution, and all the public health and economic benefits that would bring. It could also have implications for US engagement with other countries on global priorities like trade and security.

Americans are already feeling the impacts of climate change, including drought, heat waves, wildfires, and worsening flood risks from sea level rise and heavy rainfall. While we have to work with the global community to help limit the potential damages from our rising carbon emissions, communities also need help preparing for and protecting themselves from the costly and harmful impacts of climate change.

Congress and the administration need to show some leadership and take action.

Furthermore, the Trump administration must recognize that taking hasty and unwise actions on the Paris Agreement could seriously impede its ability to work effectively with other countries on other issues of global significance like trade and security.

Walking away from the Paris Agreement would leave the US isolated on the international stage, and is a clear dereliction of our duty to keep our children and grandchildren safe.

What’s your plan, President Trump?

If not the Paris Agreement, if not the Clean Power Plan, what is the Trump administration’s plan for addressing one of the most pressing issues of our time?

It’s incredibly negligent and short-sighted to undo much-needed climate and energy policies without having a robust alternative in place. That goes for Congress as well. It’s past time for our nation’s leaders to tackle these challenges head on.

Recognizing the scientific facts—that climate change is real and that the primary cause is our carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels—would be a good start. Instead we’ve seen numerous attempts by this administration and top cabinet appointees (like EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt) to dodge reality and find dangerous new reasons to postpone action, thus putting fossil fuel interests above the interests of the American public.

We have many cost-effective clean energy solutions available today, including renewable energy and energy efficiency. Ramping them up can help cut emissions, while bringing significant economic and public health benefits,—so let’s get on with deploying them instead of pretending the problem doesn’t exist.

And let’s all send a strong collective message to President Trump and his administration to stop trying to undermine the best global response to climate change that we have right now: the Paris Agreement.