The Monkey’s Climate Agreement

This must have seemed like an excellent idea to Trump.

I am fighting every day for the great people of this country. Therefore, in order to fulfill my solemn duty to protect America and its citizens, the United States will withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord.


Thank you. Thank you.

But begin negotiations to re-enter, either the Paris Accord or in, really entirely new transaction on terms that are fair to the United States, its businesses, its workers, its people, its taxpayers. So we’re getting out. But will we start to negotiate and we will see if we can make a deal that’s fair. And if we can, that’s great. And if we can’t, that’s fine.

It distracts from the ongoing Russia scandal, and it’s a move which will earn favour from many Republicans. But there’s also good reason to think it won’t have the effect Trump hopes for.

For one, the USA has been very successful at watering down past climate agreements.

When aggressively lobbying to weaken the Paris accord, U.S. negotiators usually argued that anything stronger would be blocked by the Republican-controlled House and Senate. And that was probably true. But some of the weakening — particularly those measures focused on equity between rich and poor nations — was pursued mainly out of habit, because looking after U.S. corporate interests is what the United States does in international negotiations.

Whatever the reasons, the end result was an agreement that has a decent temperature target, and an excruciatingly weak and half-assed plan for reaching it.

If the US withdraws from climate talks, as seems likely despite Trump’s “renegotiation” line, the US delegation won’t be at the table. And with China now in full support of taking action, India pushing for aggressive targets, and even Canada still willing to stick with the Paris agreement, there’s no one left to step on the brakes. Future climate change agreements will be more aggressive.

They might also carry penalties for non-signing nations. There are only three countries who didn’t sign the Paris agreement: Nicaragua didn’t sign because the agreement didn’t go far enough, Syria had been diplomatically isolated so they weren’t even invited to the table, and the US refused to even submit it for ratification by Congress. Yes, the US is a major player in world financial markets, but its dwarfed by the output of the rest of the world. If the globe agreed to impose a carbon tax on non-signing nations, the US could do little to push back.

Even if the rest of the world doesn’t have the appetite for that route, there are more creative kinds of penalties.

Calling the President’s decision “a mistake” for the US as well as the planet, [French President] Macron urged climate change scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs to go to France to continue their work. “They will find in France a second homeland,” Mr Macron said. “I call on them,” he added. “Come and work here with us, work together on concrete solutions for our climate, our environment. I can assure you, France will not give up the fight.”

Climate change has become the one thing the international community could reach a consensus on. Pulling from the Paris agreement was like kicking a puppy; regardless of the intent or circumstances, it’s an action the world can unite against. It makes for a convenient excuse to isolate the US or play hardball, much more so than any boorish behaviour by Trump.

It also won’t stop the US from following the Paris agreement anyway.

Representatives of American cities, states and companies are preparing to submit a plan to the United Nations pledging to meet the United States’ greenhouse gas emissions targets under the Paris climate accord, despite President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the agreement.

The unnamed group — which, so far, includes 30 mayors, three governors, more than 80 university presidents and more than 100 businesses — is negotiating with the United Nations to have its submission accepted alongside contributions to the Paris climate deal by other nations.

“We’re going to do everything America would have done if it had stayed committed,” Michael Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor who is coordinating the effort, said in an interview. […]

“The electric jolt of the last 48 hours is accelerating this process that was already underway,” said Mr. Orr, who is now dean of the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland. “It’s not just the volume of actors that is increasing, it’s that they are starting to coordinate in a much more integral way.”

Various US states, municipalities, universities, businesses, and even the military have been working towards cutting emissions for years without waiting for the federal government to get its act in order. A national policy would be more effective, but these piecemeal efforts have substantial force behind them and look to be gaining even more.

Finally, the boost this move earns from his supporters may get cancelled out by backlash from everyone else.

It’s also possible that Trump gave a win to his base on an issue they don’t care that much about while angering the opposition on an issue they do care about. Gallup and Pew Research Center polls indicate that global warming and fighting climate change have become higher priorities for Democrats over the past year. … As we wrote earlier, if Trump’s voters view the Paris withdrawal as an economic move, he’ll likely reap some political benefit from it. If, however, it’s viewed as mostly having to do with climate change, perhaps Trump won’t see much gain with his base. Jobs, the economy and health care rate as top issues for Republicans, but climate change and the environment do not, so it’s hard to know how Trump voters would weigh the president doing something they don’t like on an issue they care a lot about (the GOP health care bill) against him doing something they do like on an issue they don’t care much about (withdrawing from Paris).

This may have looked like an easy win for Trump, but the reality could be anything from a weak victory to a solid defeat. Time will tell, as it always does.