President Trump was poised Wednesday to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement in a move that would make good on a campaign pledge but gravely imperil the landmark 2015 accord committing nearly every country in the world to efforts curbing climate change.
The US is currently the second biggest emitter of carbon dioxide in the world. If Trump pulls the country out of Paris – which aims to stabilize world temperature increases to between 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius by encouraging carbon cuts among its 192 signatories – it would be a blow to averting the worst effects of global warming.
Bellona President Frederic Hauge reacted strongly to the US reports, saying: “This is one of the most immoral things a head of state in an enlightened part of the world can do to humanity.”
By choosing to withdraw from Paris, “the US is isolating itself from everything we call science and from the rest of the world,” Hauge said. “This will be a nightmare for Trump.”
Trump, who has previously called global warming a hoax, continued to stoke suspense about his decision on Twitter Wednesday, writing only, “I will be announcing my decision on the Paris Accord over the next few days,” adding, in all capitals, his campaign slogan: “Make America great again.”
By ratcheting up the heat on the Paris agreement, Trump seems to be responding to a slide among his core supporters who have grown disenchanted in the face of metastasizing investigations into his campaign and its possible collusion with Russia. Last week, he threw elbows during his first trip abroad, haranguing NATO allies over defense spending and refusing to commit to the Paris Agreement at a meeting of the G-7 in Italy.
A decision to abandon the accord would put the United States in league with Syria and Nicaragua as the world’s only non-participants in the Paris Climate Agreement. It could have sweeping implications for the deal, which relies heavily on the commitment of big polluter nations to reduce emissions of gases scientists blame for sea level rise, droughts and more frequent violent storms.
The Paris accord aims to limit planetary warming in part by slashing carbon dioxide and other emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. Under the pact, the United States committed to reducing its emissions by 26 to 28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025. That goal, though modest in the eyes of many experts, is now in question.
Jonas Helseth, Bellona Europa’s director, said from Brussels that the goals of the Paris Agreement are still largely achievable despite Trump’s apparent wish to pull out.
Hauge noted that the cloud kicked up by a US abandonment of the accord might even bring with it a silver lining.
“Even if this is very serious, it doesn’t mean that the climate effort in America will halt completely,” he said. “I believe the rest of the world will take over the leadership without the US. With Trump on the outside it might even go faster.”
Yet Helseth warned that “the costs and extremity of efforts with reduced and delayed action now will grow ever higher as we have to do far more later to avoid the biggest catastrophes – it is plain stupid policy.”
Axios news outlet, which first reported the withdrawal, said details of the pullout are being worked out by a team that includes Scott Pruitt, Trump’s climate skeptic Environmental Protection Agency administrator. The choice is between a formal withdrawal that could take three years or leaving the UN treaty that the accord is based on, which would be quicker but more extreme, according to the Axios report.
Trump had vowed during his campaign to “cancel” the Paris deal within 100 days of becoming president, as part of an effort to bolster US oil and coal industries. That promise helped rally supporters sharing his skepticism of global efforts to police US carbon emissions.
By keeping the promise, however, Trump would be ignoring the advice of a string his more accomplished senior advisors like Defense Secretery James Mattis and Rex Tillerson, his Secretary of State and the former CEO of ExxonMobil, both of whom advocated the US keeping a seat at the climate negotiation table.
Trump would also eschew the appeals of the US business and corporate community – of which he counts himself a member and advocate – which has urged him to stay in the pact with full-page advertisements in The New York Times, The New York Post and The Wall Street Journal.
Mattis and others in the Department of Defense have noted that the Pentagon does a substantial work addressing rising sea levels, changing sea routes for battleships due to melting glaciers, and the affects of drought and floods on US national security interests.
Bellona’s Hauge laid his hopes for the future of the agreement with China and India, two nations that were previously reluctant to make international climate commitments until the previous US administration of President Barack Obama drew them into the fold.
Helseth said Trump’s prospective decision was largely expected, and agreed that China would likely continue its Paris commitments to capitalize on plummeting costs for manufacturing solar panels and wind turbines.
He noted that China is busy building out schemes for Carbon Capture and Storage and Enhanced Oil recovery, which he predicted would be unaffected by Trump’s decision.
“Again, Trump’s decision is likely to hit many US companies and investments in many areas hard,” said Helseth.
Nor would Trump’s populist claims that backing out of Paris will bring coal jobs back to the American rust belt amount to much, Helseth said.
“Coal fights a losing battle, their costs are not going to reduce much even in best-case scenarios and renewable energy sources are getting cheap enough to out-compete it,” he said, adding that Trump’s supporters will feel that pain as even more economic opportunity trickles out of their reach.
“So basically you could say Trump just saddled the US with massively increased security risks and costs for future generations,” he said.
Trump’s position on the Paris Agreement is deeply unpopular in the United States, and earlier this month, hundreds and thousands of people turned to march in dozens of American cities to protest his rollback of environmental protections.