By Fiona Edwards
At the beginning of June Donald Trump announced that the United States is withdrawing from the historic Paris Agreement on climate change which over 190 countries signed up to in 2016 – a decision that has been widely condemned both internationally and within the US itself.
Trump had already abandoned many measures Obama took domestically on climate change. One of Trump’s first actions was to purge the Official White House website of all references to global warming and climate change science. In its place he put forward an energy plan to increase the development of fossil fuels, get rid of regulations and open up public lands and markets to drilling and mining. Trump appointed a number of figures linked the fossil fuel industry into his administration, including a champion of fossil fuels to run the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.
In March Trump signed an executive order calling on every federal agency to loosen the regulations on fossil fuels industries. Where Obama was making moves away from coal and towards renewables, Trump wants to focus on coal and fracking. Trump’s approach will make it difficult for the US to meet its target under the Paris agreement of cutting emissions by 26-28 per cent by 2025 compared to the 2005 level.
Given that Trump’s domestic policies were already at odds with the US’ commitments to reduce carbon emissions under Paris Agreement, the significance of Trump’s withdrawal from Paris was mainly symbolic from a domestic point of view. Internationally, however, it is a major political intervention designed to wreck the international framework agreed in Paris and undermine progress that is being made towards tackling climate change on a global level. That was why, in announcing the US’ withdrawal from the Agreement, Trump explicitly called for a total renegotiation of the whole Agreement. This wrecking move was swiftly rejected by other world leaders, including the EU and China.
Formerly the US has to wait four years (from November 2016) before its withdrawal from the Paris agreement will take effect. This means the US can continue as a member of the Paris Agreement, for the entirety of Trump’s term in office, and play a disruptive role during the ongoing negotiations on how to implement the Agreement.
The next four years are crucial years in which decisive action to reduce carbon emission and avoid run-away climate change is essential for the future of our planet and for the whole of humanity’s future prosperity and welfare. Globally, emissions have to be declining by 2020. Isolating and disrupting Trump’s attempts to thwart progress in tackling climate change will be a crucial battle throughout his term in office.
The significance of the US withdrawing from the Paris Accords
The latest scientific consensus is that global temperatures must be kept below a 1.5 degrees Celsius rise in order to avoid catastrophic climate change.
The Paris Accord, whilst a major step forward, does not commit the world’s nation states to sufficient action to keep global temperatures below 1.5 degrees. The Paris Agreement states its ambition is to keep temperatures below 1.5 degrees, states its target is to keep temperatures below 2 degrees but its actual action plan only delivers commitments which would keep global temperatures below 3.3 degrees. And now that the US, the world’s biggest per capita carbon emitter, is withdrawing from the Paris Agreement achieving the 3.3 degrees might now be at risk.
Concretely, when the US’ commitments on reducing carbon emissions are included the Paris Agreement global temperatures are expected to rise by 3.3 degrees, but when the US’ commitments are taken out of the equation global temperatures are set to rise by 3.6 degrees. It is worth noting that these figures are for global average temperature rises. The impact on large sections of the world would be much more extreme.
Within the US opposition to Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris has been expressed from powerful quarters – including from leaders of US States and Cities which have a large capacity to reduce carbon emissions without the involvement of the Trump administration.
Michael Bloomberg has organised the United States Climate Alliance. This group of cities, states, university presidents and companies who want to uphold the Paris Agreement is intending to develop and submit a plan to the United Nations pledging to meet the US’ greenhouse emissions limits set in the Paris accord.
So far 12 US States – including California, New York and Washington – which collectively generate more than a third of US GDP and 187 cities have pledged to cut their emissions by 26-28 per cent (the same as the national commitment made by the US in Paris Agreement) below 2005, by 2025. This is a huge contribution, but it is not enough to substitute a commitment by the US.
The international rejection of Trump’s climate change denial
Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris deal was met with swift and almost universal disapproval from world leaders and pledges to implement the commitments made in the Paris Agreement regardless.
A joint statement by France, Germany and Italy, which Theresa May the UK Prime Minister refused to sign up to stated: ‘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.’
President of France, Macron added that Trump had ‘committed an error for the interests of his country, his people and a mistake for the future of our planet.’
China is continuing to show clear global leadership on the question of climate change – including by forging a new alliance with the EU to take forward this work. A draft statement from the EU and China stated: ‘climate change is exerting increasing stress on ecosystems and infrastructure to the point of threatening hard-won development gains.’ The statement went on to say: ‘The Paris Agreement is proof that with shared political will and mutual trust, multilateralism can succeed in building fair and effective solutions to the most critical global problems of our time.’ The message from two of the largest trading zones in the world is clear: global action on climate change will proceed with or without the Trump administration.
The New York Times, in its Editorial on 22 May 2017, commented on the contrast between China and the US with regards to action on climate change, stating: ‘Until recently, China and India have been cast as obstacles… in the battle against climate change. That reputation looks very much out of date now that both countries have greatly accelerated their investments in cost-effective renewable energy sources – and reduced their reliance on fossil fuels. It’s America – Donald Trump’s America – that now looks like the laggard.’
Indeed, China is on course to exceed their Paris agreement targets with their emissions peaking more than 10 years sooner than pledged.
There is a gap between the commitments made by nation states in the Paris Agreement and the action required to reduce carbon emissions to a safe level.
It’s not just Trump that is not doing enough. The EU’s commitments fall well behind what is needed. The struggle in Europe for an end to fossil fuels and a speedy, just transition to renewable energy is a priority for the working class.
Whilst nation states in the West are not doing enough, the world’s largest cities are stepping up. 90 of the world’s biggest cities in which 650 million people live and which account for 25 per cent of the world’s GDP have committed to action plans to put them on track to meet the 1.5 degree Paris target by 2020
In the UK, Theresa May issued a delayed and lacklustre response to the news of Trump pulling out of the agreement. After initially failing to respond, a Downing Street spokesperson clarified that she was ‘disappointed’. As with Trump’s ‘Muslim Ban’, Theresa May is entirely unwilling to stand up to the US on behalf on the interests of UK citizens or human rights. The Conservative Government has failed to publish a plan for how it will meet climate change targets, has cut support for renewable energy and energy saving home insulation measures, and has a strategy of ‘maximising the economic extraction of oil and gas’, including persuing fracking.
By contrast, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn condemned Trump’s move as dangerous and reckless, and called on Theresa May to make a stronger response. Labour has also under Corbyn produced an ambitious climate change plan including to create a million new green jobs, ensure 60 per cent of our heating and electricity comes from renewable energy, and to ban fracking.
Corbyn said: ‘Given the chance to present a united front with our international partners, she has instead opted for silence and subservience to Donald Trump. It is a dereliction of her duty both to our country and to our planet,’
In Britain all those who care for the future of humanity and our planet need to continue campaigning for a Corbyn-led Labour government – so that this country plays its part in tackling climate change.