Mahrukh A Mughal
June 01 was a dark day for humanity when President Donald Trump announced to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change. The agreement was adapted in 2015 by 195 nations, including the United States which is the world’s second largest greenhouse gas emitter. American people want to remain in the Paris agreement even many of the supporters of Trump. The Trump administration has argued that the Paris agreement is “unfair” because large polluting countries such as India and China are not required to do anything until 2030.
The Paris accord is the best chance for saving the planet from catastrophic climate change. The agreement charts a path to finally reining in the global carbon emissions that are warming the Earth. Without those emissions curbs there will be a future with searing heat waves, devastating floods, human suffering, and trillions of dollars in economic damage. In the United States, the governors of three States, California, New York, and Washington announced to form a climate alliance and made commitment to uphold the Paris climate agreement. The withdrawal from the Agreement may be a huge foreign policy blunder that will reverberate American’s relation with its allies.
During the negotiation process, the United States pushed to make the agreement flexible to bring all countries on board and to keep them in the fold even if their situations and priorities changed. Bringing China into that fold was also possible because of the crucial role of US. Now Trump’s extremist and materialistic policy to abdicate US responsibility in climate change mitigation is likely to make other international negotiations more challenging, particularly with respect to Trade. This withdrawal has opened up a geopolitical space in climate leadership that may or may not be filled as China might be looking to fill the leadership role that the United States is vacating. Now, United States is no more the major voice pushing for transparency and verification of compliance with nation’s stated goals, though measurement and reporting portions of agreement are to be negotiated and put into place from now through 2020.
Apart from the political scoring, Donald Trump has to lose much by backing out of this accord since it would do little to advance his pro-fossil fuel agenda and could strain relations with trading partners. The United States is the world’s second largest emitters of carbon dioxide. Its trade partners could argue they are at a disadvantage if the United States frees its companies from the burden of climate regulations. Many of the biggest US trade partners including the European Union, Canada, Mexico and China already have or will soon implement carbon trading systems to cap the amount of C02 that companies are allowed to emit. On the other hand, president Trump claims that all bilateral agreements hurt US jobs. It is true that American jobs have been lost, at times, to foreign competition; to the forces of an integrating global economy, to innovation and automation and to some specific regulatory changes.
However, the US economy remains the largest in the world. With specific regard to the current climate accord, the global consensus calls for a significant reduction in C02 emissions in order to fight the damaging and potentially catastrophic effects of climate change, global warming, rising temperatures, greater volatility in the weather, rising sea levels and the disruption of various global eco-systems. Look back to Montreal Protocols, in Regan’s era, signed by 197 nations, which worked remarkably and did not stop the Regan Revolution from growing the economy and adding countless jobs during that period. There were other successful environmental agreements which did not hinder economic development.
During his presidential election campaign Trump announced that he would take the step to help his country’s oil and coal industries. He also characterised the Paris agreement as a deal that aimed to hobble, disadvantage and impoverish the US. He claimed the agreement would cost the US $3 trillion in lost GDP and 6.5 million jobs while rival economies like China and India were treated more favourably. Now the US withdrawal will make it more difficult for the world to reach the goals that it set for itself in the Paris agreement by keeping global temperature rises well under 2C. There is a question of moral leadership, which the US will be giving up, which may have consequences for other diplomatic efforts. The key relationship that brokered the Paris agreement was between the US and China. China has rapidly reaffirmed its commitment to the Paris accord and EU and China have decided to move forward. Despite President Trump’s withdrawal from the accord, US carbon will continue to drop, that’s because US energy production is now powered more by gas than by coal.
Barack Obama criticised the move, accusing the Trump administration of “rejecting the future”. The leaders of France, Germany and Italy issued a joint statement rejecting a renegotiation of the agreement. The statement explained that the momentum generated in Paris accord 2015 was irreversible and would not be renegotiated since it would be a vital instrument for the planet, societies and economies. Trump has clearly expressed his repudiation of the Accord and international efforts to fund climate mitigation and adaptation in poorer countries. Though he spoke of being open to renegotiating the deal but the idea of renegotiation is unlikely scenario. The scale of his opposition, seeing the deal as “a massive redistribution of US wealth to other countries” is a clear indication that he has brought into an economic nationalist and climate denier perspective.
— The author, based in Lahore, writes on International Affairs and Politics.
Mahrukh A Mughal