US considering implications of pulling out of climate deal

26th May 2017


US President, Donald Trump, is realising that his new job is tougher than he thought; that there needs to be a geopolitical strategy to every decision. As a man focused more on ratings than disseminating factual information, he is struggling with the potential impacts of fulfilling some of his campaign promises.

One such promise is that of exiting the Paris Climate Accord ratified only last year, and legally binding by international law. World leaders, including German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, and Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, have urged him to stay on board with commitments to bring down greenhouse gas emissions and invest in renewable energy infrastructure, hinting that other negotiations may hinge on it. The White House recently stated that it will not decide on whether to pull out of the deal until after the G7 summit in late May.

Trump’s campaign resounded with a lot of Americans reminiscent of a simpler past, when the ‘American Dream’ still seemed attainable as long as one was willing to work hard enough. Trump blames regulations for the loss of jobs in industries such as coal, as well as the suppression of entrepreneurship in general. In reality, the world as a whole is turning away from dirty energy industries and robots are taking more jobs than are regulations. President Trump has been receiving conflicting advice from those closest to him regarding the climate accord, with some surprising members of his cabinet urging him to uphold the deal, while others suggest that he follow through with his campaign promise. His daughter, Ivanka, and her husband Jared Kushner, as well as Secretary of State and former head of Exxon Mobil, Rex Tillerson, want him to keep the US’s commitment to the deal. Chief Strategist, Steve Bannon, and head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, are urging him to pull the US out.

On more than one occasion, Trump has reversed his stance on international agreements. During his campaign, he criticised NATO, calling it “obsolete”, but after a brief conversation with Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s Secretary General decided that it was, in fact, still relevant and in the US’s best interest to remain an ally. The President also criticised NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), which sparked immediate responses from the leaders of both Canada and Mexico; soon after, President Trump decided not to pull out.

World leaders are beginning to understand the volatility that can come from a leader who changes his mind quickly after receiving more detailed information on an issue, sometimes from world leaders themselves. It was reported that Angela Merkel had to explain aspects of the Geneva Convention to the US President after he vowed to stop accepting refugees.

The Paris Agreement seems somewhat sacred to many world leaders. It took years of contentious negotiations to become law, and if the world’s largest per capita contributor to greenhouse gas emissions pulls out to “brings coal jobs back”, it would be a disaster for all other nations who have committed. The UN fears a domino effect; similar to what was thought may happen after Brexit. China did reaffirm its commitment to the deal upon speaking to France’s new President, Emmanuel Macron. Macron has expressed that he takes the accord very seriously, as he mentioned it in his first conversations as president-elect to both the US and Chinese leaders.

Some parties are discussing allowing the US to lessen its commitments in order to remain part of the deal, but many disagree with this path, as the targets took so long to be solidified, and if every time a new president is elected, they can simply rework targets, the overall goals would never be reached. A representative from Ethiopia suggested that there should be no “political backpedalling” allowed. Investors are also sceptical, waiting to see what the US decides before committing too much funding to the cause. Meetings that were expected to be calm affairs to work out the details of the accord are wrought with frustration at the US’s impending decision.

While small island states grapple with the idea of becoming climate refugees, the US accommodates climate change sceptics at all levels of government. The rest of the world is ready to move forward with prioritising climate change and investing in a renewable energy future. A diplomat from Ethiopia, Gebru Jember Endalew, stated, “I feel that if the US withdraws, it’s a betrayal to the global community – especially the least developed countries and the most vulnerable groups of countries.” If the US does, in fact, pull out of the Paris Agreement, the G7 may show the US just how bad of a betrayal it was, with economic repercussions.

Sarah Sakeena Marshall, B.S. Environmental Science & Policy

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