Trump pulls out of the Paris climate agreement: The fallout
So it’s officially confirmed. President Donald Trump has had a rare bout of consistency, and transformed his long standing history of denying the science of climate change into actual devastating policy. The president has formally announced his intention for the USA to leave the block of 193 nations pledging to reduce their carbon emissions, and joined Nicaragua (which declined to sign up because they didn’t believe the plans went far enough) and Syria (which has rather a lot on its plate at the moment) in sitting out the historic agreement. What that looks like on a map is not a good look, as the graphic below from our friends at Statista demonstrates:
There’s a lot to say about this, but much of it I’ve said before. Firstly, it’s disappointing, but not surprising. Trump has been threatening to do this since last year when he was still campaigning, but nobody thought he’d be in the position to actually act upon it, and climate change barely featured in the campaign as a whole.
Secondly, while it’s pretty obvious that Trump is alarmingly influenced by the last person he spoke to/TV show he watched, any progress gained from meeting climate advocate Al Gore was always likely to be undone as soon as he returned to hanging out with the Republican Party, which is amongst the most ignorant of climate change on the planet.
Thirdly, there are a couple of reasons for (very mild) optimism in all of this. The first, as I explained yesterday, is that there’s not a quick and easy route out of the Paris agreement. The formal triggers for a nation leaving it will take us all the way up to the 2020 election, because you can’t withdraw in the first three years, and it takes an extra year to pull the trigger. The second is that, to a certain extent, climate change work is being spearheaded by businesses and local government, and that work should continue relatively unimpeded in the US. To be clear, that’s not to say everything’s rosey – far from it: a paper in Nature suggested that even with Obama’s climate plans in place, the US was due to overshoot its 2025 greenhouse gas targets by nearly one billion tonnes. My point is that there’s a good chance that this already low bar won’t get too much lower as a result of Trump’s latest wheeze.
But as a statement of America’s place in the world, it’s enormous and devastating. It’s announcing loudly that the US is turning its back on international cooperation, and doing so in a massively tin-eared way. “We don’t want other leaders and other countries laughing at us any more. And they won’t be,” Trump said in a statement in the White House rose garden. “The same nations asking us to stay in the agreement are the countries that have collectively cost America trillions of dollars through tough trade practices and in many cases lax contributions to our critical military alliance.”
That’s the difference between leaving a dinner party with a polite nod to the host and slapping each guest round the face a few times on your way out. And unsurprisingly, the international community is distinctly unimpressed. These statements may seem mild, but in terms of international diplomacy, these comments are like a giant middle finger aimed squarely at the US:
“The decision made by U.S. President Trump amounts to turning their backs on the wisdom of humanity. I’m very disappointed… I am angry.” – Japanese environment minister Koichi Yamamoto.
“We deem the momentum generated in Paris in December 2015 irreversible and we firmly believe that the Paris Agreement cannot be renegotiated, since it is a vital instrument for our planet, societies and economies.” – A joint statement issued by German chancellor Angela Merkel, French president Emmanuel Macron and Italian prime minister Paolo Gentiloni.
“The decision by the United States to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change is a major disappointment for global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote global security.” – UN secretary-general, António Guterres,
“He’s made us an environmental pariah in the world, and I think it is one of the most self-destructive moves I have ever seen by any president in my lifetime.” – Former American secretary of state, John Kerry.
“We are deeply disappointed that the United States federal government has decided to withdraw from the Paris Agreement.” – Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau.
Even the Vatican got in on the act, saying it was a “huge slap in the face” for the pope, and a “disaster for everyone.” Marcelo Sanches Sorondo, head of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences went even further, comparing the president to a flat-earther. “Saying that we need to rely on coal and oil is like saying that the earth is not round. It is an absurdity dictated by the need to make money,” he told Reuters.
The business world was equally despondent, starting with Elon Musk honouring his word and resigning his position on the president’s advisory councils.
He was followed out the door by Disney CEO Robert Iger.
Apple CEO Tim Cook explained in an internal email to staff that he had tried to lobby the president on the importance of the deal for the planet’s health: “I spoke with President Trump on Tuesday and tried to persuade him to keep the US in the agreement. But it wasn’t enough . . . I want to reassure you that today’s developments will have no impact on Apple’s efforts to protect the environment.”
Microsoft’s Brad Smith wrote in a post on LinkedIn that the company had also been stressing the importance of the deal to the White House. And Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai feels much the same:
Outside of politics and business, others were more forthright – most obviously the German tabloid Berliner Kurier which led with the headline “Earth to Trump: Fuck you!”
In short, that’s an awful lot of bad PR for something which may not make much material difference to the US’s carbon emissions. But having a poor reputation doesn’t seem to have done the president much harm so far, so what’s a few more bad headlines?
For Trump, probably not too much. For whoever has to pick up the diplomatic pieces in 2020 or 2024, it’s a whole different story.
Image by Jon Feinstein, used under Creative Commons.