President Donald Trump has proclaimed his intent to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement—a rejection of climate change that moves the country toward isolation on the global stage.
In remarks on Thursday, the U.S. president framed the withdrawal as a move intended to boost American industry, while dismissing “praise from the very foreign capitals and global activists that have long sought to gain wealth at our country's expense.”
“We want fair treatment for [America’s] citizens and we want fair treatment for our taxpayers,” he added, while signaling an interest in renegotiating the terms of the pact. “We don't want other leaders and other countries laughing at us anymore, and they won't be.” (Read more about how progress on climate change will continue.)
Far from reclaiming other countries’ respect, Trump’s decision threatens to make the United States an international pariah. If the U.S. makes good on Trump’s promise to withdraw—which cannot happen until November 4, 2020, one day after the 2020 U.S. presidential elections—the country will join only two other countries that are not parties to the accord, Nicaragua and Syria.
Of the three countries, the U.S. stands alone in its rejection of the deal as too onerous.
Nicaragua did not join the Paris Agreement because it felt that the agreement’s voluntary goals were insufficient. The Central American country aims to produce 90 percent of its energy via renewables by 2020.
Syria’s brutal, years-long civil war—and resulting international sanctions—made it difficult at best for the country to participate in negotiations and submit an emissions-reduction plan.
“IGNORANCE AND IDEOLOGY WON OUT”
The U.S. withdrawal also threatens to undermine international cooperation with the U.S. on issues unrelated to climate change, warn experts on international diplomacy.
“The countries of the world care about climate change… and they understand that the Paris regime cannot work in the long run if the world’s indispensable power has left the table,” wrote Todd Stern, the Obama administration’s chief negotiator at Paris, in a recent essay published by The Atlantic. “The president’s exit from Paris would be read as a kind of ‘drop dead’ to the rest of the world.”
“[The decision to withdraw] was a strategic and economic blunder of epic proportions,” adds a current U.S. official knowledgeable on climate diplomacy. “We’re basically ceding political influence, we’re ceding the economic playing field, and we’re ceding the moral high ground.”
The U.S. official, who gave a phone interview on the condition of anonymity, notes that the country’s 2001 refusal to ratify the Kyoto Protocol strained relationships with other countries, particularly in the buildup to the Iraq War.
What’s more, the U.S. turnabout fed a perception that the country wasn’t reducing its emissions, despite progress in the private sector and on the state and local level, the official says.
Then as now, state and local authorities are filling the void left by the U.S. federal government.
The states of New York, California, and Washington—which comprise more than a fifth of the U.S. GDP—have announced a “United States Climate Alliance” aimed at upholding the country’s existing Paris Agreement pledges. On Friday, Connecticut and Massachusetts voiced support for the alliance. Eighty-four U.S. mayors representing 40 million Americans also proclaimed their support for the Paris Agreement, in a separate joint statement.
And on Thursday, the New York Times reported that a coalition of U.S. states, cities, and businesses organized by former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg is preparing a pledge to uphold the U.S.’s Paris commitments.
“This is an instance when ignorance and ideology won out over science and common sense, but I think it’s a Pyrrhic victory,” the current U.S. official says. “There are many people in the [federal] government, in state governments, in local governments, in the private sector, and in civil society who understand the obligation the U.S. has to lead on this issue.”
“I know of nobody who is giving up the fight,” the official adds. “We understand the stakes—we’re on the right side of history.”