The consequences of US withdrawal from the Paris accords

Donald Trump has finally made good on his signature campaign promise to withdraw from the Paris climate change accords, a move that has been pretty much condemned by everyone except his die-hard base of climate-change deniers, the US fossil-fuel industry, and those business leaders who see this as yet another step in removing all those pesky restrictions that prevent them from squeezing ever more profits at the expense of people’s lives and the planet’s health.

But other nations are not going to stop taking actions to limit climate change, and even some US state leaders say that they are going to form a pact to take action despite the abdication of the federal government. What Trump’s move does is to ensure that the US government is no longer involved in any future discussions. Why is this significant? Because as Naomi Klein reports, it was the US that in previous discussions had demanded the watering down of proposals, and other nations went along with its demands just in order to keep the US on board.

The fact that the agreement only commits governments to keeping warming below an increase of 2 degrees, rather than a much safer firm target of 1.5 degrees, was lobbied for and won by the United States.

The fact that the agreement left it to individual nations to determine how much they were willing to do to reach that temperature target, allowing them to come to Paris with commitments that collectively put us on a disastrous course toward more than 3 degrees of warming, was lobbied for and won by the United States.

The fact that the agreement treats even these inadequate commitments as non-binding, which means governments apparently do not have anything to fear if they ignore their commitments, is something else that was lobbied for and won by the United States.

The fact that the agreement specifically prohibits poor countries from seeking damages for the costs of climate disasters was lobbied for and won by the United States.

The fact that it is an “agreement” or an “accord” and not a treaty — the very thing that makes it possible for Trump to stage his action-movie slow-mo walk away, world in flames behind him — was lobbied for and won by the United States.

I could go on. And on. Often the U.S. had help in this backroom bullying from such illustrious petro-states as Saudi Arabia. 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.

Now freed from the need to accommodate US foot-dragging, other nations can address the problem of climate change more meaningfully and take the steps that the world should have taken long ago. Will those work without the US on board? That remains to be seen. While some US industries will undoubtedly rejoice in being able to increase their carbon pollution, we should be aware that coal-based energy and jobs are on the way out and nothing is going to bring them back despite Trump’s grandiose promises. The future is in alternative energy and as the rest of the world surges ahead in its development and utilization and adopts stricter standards, US industries will no longer be competitive.

The European Union has rejected Donald Trump’s offer to renegotiate the Paris climate agreement and pledged instead to bypass Washington to work with US business leaders and state governors to implement the historic accord’s commitments.

Less than 24 hours after the US president announced his decision to withdraw from the 2015 agreement and strike a new, less ambitious deal with the world, Brussels declared its outright refusal to engage in such talks.

EU officials will instead cut out the White House to deal directly with the US states and major corporations, many of whom who have already pledged to live by the terms forged in Paris.

The US has maintained its economic power by being the leader in science and technology and forcing other nations to play catch up. That lead has shrunk considerably over the years but this move can lead to the US actually falling behind as some of its best scientists and engineers move to countries that are not anti-science the way that the US is. French president Emmanuel Macron has already invited them to come to his nation and adopted the slogan “Make Our Planet Great Again”.

Macron additionally called on “scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs [and] responsible citizens who were disappointed” by Trump’s move to make France their home.

“I call on them, come, and work here with us. To work together on concrete solutions for our climate, our environment. I can assure you that France will not give up the fight.”

European leaders are saying that they will not renegotiate the Paris accord as Trump says he wants. In effect, the rest of the world is going ahead without the US. The US has long wielded clout by claiming to be the one essential nation without whose involvement nothing meaningful can happen. What this development might reveal is that the emperor has no clothes, that the rest of the world can function quite well without the US and that it will be left on the sidelines as progress marches on.

Some business leaders realize the long-term dangers of Trump’s move not just to the planet but to US business interests as the resignations of Tesla’s Elon Musk and Disney’s Robert Iger from Trump’s business advisory panel suggests and the fact that 30 major US business leaders, even including Goldman Sachs chief executive Lloyd Blankfein, signed on to a letter to Trump that began, “We are writing to express our strong support for the United States remaining in the Paris climate agreement. Based on our vast experience doing business all over the world, we believe there is strong potential for negative trade implications if the United States exits from the Paris agreement.”

But of course, here in the US we don’t need to worry about the planet being destroyed because Jesus will take care of the problem.

John Oliver looks at how people in the US get a distorted view of the seriousness of the climate change problem and what should be done to change that perception.


  1. says

    At this point, were I a premier of China, Russia, or Germany, I would announce that my government was going to increase funding on fusion research by a factor of 10, and start a massive fusion research program including everyone in it except the US and probably Saudi Arabia. I know that fusion energy is one of those things that’s perpetually 10 years away, but it would be the single best way to turn the US into a 3rd world nation if it succeeded. It’d be a “game over, man” move.

  2. says

    If the worst thing that the Trump presidency does internationally is a permanent de-powering of American influence, it would almost be worth it.

    The “almost” is because of the enormous damage he’s doing domestically, and the people who didn’t vote for him don’t deserve that.

  3. timberwoof says

    Fusion is hard. The easy reaction (3H + 2H -> 4He + e + 1N) spews neutrons that make the inside of your reactor radioactive. The clean reactions are much more difficult to attain. I do not believe that fusion on Earth will be the magic bullet. That said, there is a fusion reactor not far from Earth. It’s pretty stable, needs no maintenance, and we’re mostly shielded from its particle emissions. Its energy is free for the taking; no new technology is needed. We might as well use that reactor, right?

    Since the US is pulling out of the Paris Agreement, the remaining members are free to reinstate the restrictions the US vetoed … and then, I hope, free to sue the US for damages resulting from not following them.

  4. Holms says

    French president Emmanuel Macron has already invited them to come to his nation and adopted the slogan “Make Our Planet Great Again”.

    He missed a marketing trick: he could have phrased it as Make Earth [Great/Green] Again for MEGA.

  5. says

    The Rest-Of-The-World needs to rapidly mobilise to make containerised battery storage and solar panel units that can be shipped all over the globe (except the US) at low cost, displacing the need for fossil fuels for electricity. Then the same for synthetic fuel generators and that will displace the need for fossil fuels for long distance transport and seasonal variation. Once the rest of the world has endless almost free clean energy at hand the US opposition to renewable energy will crumble.

  6. jrkrideau says

    @1 Marcus R
    Disagree with the Fusion approach since it is too dicey. The old joke that nuclear fusion is only 10 years away and has been for the last 50 years actually is a reality to me.

    Just follow Macron’s approach and strip the USA of its best scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs. The USA has what is the most productive and creative research sector in the world.

    Trump’s budget cuts to such things as the NIH, FDA, CDC and anything else that does research means that a lot of very good researchers are probably polishing résumés and checking the housing lists in a lot of places.

    I hope my local universities have recruiting teams in the field (well at the conferences anyway) right now. I know if I was a university principal or president I’d have been organizing and training my academic recruitment (SWAT?) teams as soon as Trump was elected.

    Then you have DeVos and her attack on the educational systems of the USA. A few million dollars, a lot less than probably futile spending on Fusion research, helping support her polices leaves the USA in roughly 15 years with a totally uneducated population.

    I’d not worry about Russian influence in the last election. China must be laughing.

    Combine this with the quite likely imposition of formal or informal sanctions against US businesses and the US is in trouble.

    Re: Informal sanctions
    I find myself consciously checking the origin of produce in my local grocery store and avoiding US produce wherever possible since Trump’s election. How many other Canadians are doing the same?

    Given even roughly comparable costs will I go to Florida or Cuba for a week in the sun. Cuba [1], of course, and so on.

    For heaven sake, the Girl Guides of Canada are boycotting the USA.

    1. Cuba has been a favourite Canadian winter holiday spot for the late 25 or 30 years at least so there is nothing adventurous or scary about going there. Well, I’ve heard some of the resorts have hordes of wild Canadian children running around.

  7. says

    Re: fusion -- fair enough. I read a couple books about it and they make it sound plausible but very hard. To me it seems like as a civilization there ought to be no amount that’s not worth investing to attempt to produce clean power. But as timberwoof says -- there is a huge supply of safe clean fusion power that is relatively convenient.

    It’s my impression that the US has largely ceeded that market to China already.

    Empires come, empires go.

  8. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    That said, there is a fusion reactor not far from Earth. It’s pretty stable, needs no maintenance, and we’re mostly shielded from its particle emissions. Its energy is free for the taking; no new technology is needed. We might as well use that reactor, right?

    Unfortunately, the reactor is not accessible all of the time, because of night, clouds, seasons. Also unfortunately, the equipment necessary to harness that power is itself quite expensive. Overall, it requires almost as much energy to build the equipment to harness the sun, as we get as output.

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