Donald Trump to pull the USA out of the Paris climate change deal

Last week, President Donald Trump left us with the kind of cliffhanger best suited to the reality TV career he left behind. But no, this time it wasn’t a question of whether David, Poppy or Stephanie would be fired from being make believe business people – it was about whether or not New York will be underwater by 2065.

While Trump hasn’t made the formal announcement himself, word has got out and it’s bad news for those of us who’ve grown rather fond of the planet we’ve been tenants of for the past 200,000 or so years. Three sources close to the president have told Axios that Trump intends to pull the United States out of the Paris agreement.

That’s not a good look for the second largest polluter on the planet. The deal was a lot of hard work and compromise as things stood. It’s entirely possible the whole deal will unravel as a result with catastrophic results as nations go back to business as usual in a fit of pique. The 1.5 million voters who backed Jill Stein of the Green Party might want to take this moment to assess how well they used their vote – after all, it’s not like they weren’t warned where Trump stood on green issues.

Now what?


So, what happens now? Well, much as he would like to, Trump can’t just pull out of the Paris climate deal by saying it out loud. Axios identifies three paths the president can take in his own personal Choose Your Own Adventure book of ruining the planet:

1) Trump could exit via the mechanisms of the agreement

The Paris agreement has a system for parties to exit the deal, but there’s a notice period to serve and it would take us all the way to the 2020 election. Under the terms of the deal, countries can’t withdraw until three years after the deal comes into force – which was 4 November 2016. Axios reckons that the process of withdrawal would take an extra year, taking us all the way to November 2020. 

2) Trump could leave it to the Senate

The president could plausibly call the Paris deal a legal treaty, meaning it would require approval from the Republican Senate, which the Republicans hold 52 to 46. While Trump is an outlier in his climate change denial in the world as a whole, he’s entirely representative of his party which is one of the most dismissive of global warming science in the world. Putting the Paris deal to a Senate vote inevitably would see it voted down, and he’d then have a mandate to ignore it. It’s possible this option will be played in conjunction with Option One or…

3) The quick (but painful) option

I was going to call this the nuclear option, but given the president’s actions have already nudged the Doomsday Clock a little closer to midnight, perhaps I should choose my words more carefully. President Trump could cut out the middle man, and pull out of the deal which underpins the Paris agreement: the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. This would be the fastest route, as the process would take just a year, but it would be (more of) a diplomatic nightmare, as it would cut the US out of the entire worldwide climate change conversation.

The glass is actually a quarter full

I’m going to leave this post with two reasons for optimism, which isn’t generally how I finish off my climate change posts, but bear with me.

The first point is that nothing has been officially confirmed yet. The sources seem reliable, but until the words leave Trump’s mouth, nothing is guaranteed. In fact, even after they leave Trump’s mouth, there’s a good chance he’ll disavow them. Even if he doesn’t, his history of flip-flopping could be advantageous. Remember that the first option is something that Trump can’t activate until 2019 – if his numbers tank further, and it plays well to do so, he could change his mind.

The second point is that while it’s a big showpiece, the Paris Climate Agreement isn’t the be all and end all of the world’s response to climate change. Not only are 192 countries (hopefully) left to fight on under the terms of the agreement, but even within the US much of the good work on climate change comes from business and local government rather than from the White House. Daniel Firger of Bloomberg explains why in this series of tweets:

Keep that in mind when Trump finally makes his announcement.

Image by Jon Feinstein, used under Creative Commons.

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