US withdrawal from Paris agreement more damaging to US credibility than to climate change?

US withdrawal from Paris agreement more damaging to US credibility than to climate change?

Donald Trump has announced that the US will withdraw from the Paris climate agreement that almost every country in the world adopted in December 2015. This is not surprising but still terrible news for the principle of collective action to protect our planet. Trump’s withdrawal from the agreement puts the US in the same league as only two other countries – Syria and Nicaragua – that are not participating in the agreement.

However, the impact of the withdrawal may be more damaging to the US’s global credibility than it is for combating climate change and curbing greenhouse emissions.

Trump is acting on his election pledge to pull out of the Paris agreement and in turn revitalise the rust belt of fossil fuel industries such as coal mining. The president’s rhetoric follows that the US will not continue to make cuts to fossil fuel industries, which have suffered decline and high unemployment in states such as Wyoming, in order to uphold its pledge to cut the country’s greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28 per cent by 2025 from what levels were in 2005.

Essentially this reverses the Obama administrations climate change commitment. By pulling out of the agreement there will be more jobs for Americans, according to Trump.

Trump paris agreement
Trump’s announcement in the Rose Garden

However, employment in US fossil fuel industries have generally been driven more by market conditions than by government policy.

Coal will stay under pressure because of competition from North America’s abundant reserves of low-cost gas, and oil companies will be reluctant to drill in the Arctic unless crude prices are significantly higher. Furthermore, the fastest-growing occupation in the U.S. is now wind turbine technicians. There are also more solar jobs than jobs in the coal industry.

Furthermore, states such as California, the sixth largest economy in the world, will be able to continue their own climate policies. There are 29 states that already have mandates for the use of renewable electricity, and many have tax breaks and other supports for technologies to cut emissions.

California will be crucial. It has set a target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 40 per cent from 1990 levels by 2030. It already has a large emissions trading scheme and state lawmakers are debating whether to extend it beyond 2020. Nine states in the north-east US are part of a regional system of trading greenhouse gas emissions permits.

One issue to watch will be whether the Trump administration tries to take on any of the states to block their climate policies. Mr Pruitt and Rick Perry, the energy secretary, have hinted that they are considering such moves.

US Global Relations

The Paris withdrawal may well be another nail in the coffin for US credibility and global relations. America’s closest allies have criticised Trump’s approach.

“We deem the momentum generated in Paris in December 2015 irreversible and we firmly believe that the Paris agreement cannot be renegotiated, since it is a vital instrument for our planet, societies and economies,” Germany’s Angela Merkel, France’s Emmanuel Macron and Italy’s Paolo Gentiloni said in a joint statement.

The US’s most important Asian ally was also critical, with Koichi Yamamoto, Japan’s environment minister, saying: “I’m deeply disappointed by President Trump’s decision to turn his back on the hard-won wisdom of humanity.” Similar criticism came from fellow G7 member Canada.

Trump has opened more space for China to increase its political and economic influence. China’s premier Li Keqiang is scheduled to appear with EU leaders in Brussels to cement an agreement to accelerate Paris-related climate measures. A joint statement with the EU will state the determination to forge ahead with measures to “lead the energy transition” towards a global low-carbon economy.

solar farm in China
Chinese solar farm

China, despite being the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter, is at the forefront of green initiatives. It has two-thirds of the world’s solar panel production capacity and buys half the world’s new solar panels. China has also pledged to produce at least 20 per cent of its energy from non-fossil fuels by 2030.

China’s green revolution has attracted billions of dollars in foreign investment and created millions of jobs. By withdrawing US involvement in international leadership on climate change, Trump has opened the door for China to become a global climate leader. This is an opportunity China will take.

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