‘This was a system designed and constructed by the Americans, and now the Americans are dismantling it’.
Norbert Rottgen, Chairman of Germany’s Bundestag International Affairs Committee, on Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Accords.
As I write this, I am thinking of a new generation of leaders that will become more centre stage in the years to come: Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron and Justin Trudeau. Theirs is a trio that inspires me and gives me hope. I salute their alliance and hope that other nations join it in the months and years to come. The thing about climate change is that it is something that has always united political parties across the spectrum and countries across the globe. Until now.
Yesterday, Donald Trump’s hotly anticipated decision was announced. The headline popped up on my phone as I was sitting watching a play at the National Theatre (one that I sacked off at the interval out of boredom): Donald Trump was pulling out of the Paris Climate Accords. In so doing, he disregarded counsel from Rex Tillerson, his very own Secretary of State. Tillerson was very firmly in the pro Paris Accords camp. Could this be another potential defector from the Trump team? The list does seem to be piling up and the little hash tag #Allthepresidentsmen I used on Twitter yesterday may soon become more prominent.
Trump also ignored his own daughter and son in law in the process.
Angela Merkel is not a happy bunny. The FT wrote today:
‘Fears are now being voiced for the future of the Atlanticist tradition in German politics. First embraced by Konrad Adenauer — Germany’s long-serving first postwar chancellor, who took the country into NATO in 1955 and helped build the foundations of the EU — the tradition is a cornerstone of German foreign policy’.
America by the way, is the world’s second largest emitter of global warming pollutants after China. China hasn’t gone anywhere. They remain in the accord.
What does the leaving process involve?
It takes years to withdraw from the non-binding Paris Climate agreements. Like Brexit, it’s not something that can be done overnight. Trump has to wait, and this is stipulated in the deal, until November 2019 before he can formally submit his intention to withdraw. He has effectively just given notice of his intention. Also, once that notice has been formally served, there is a further year’s waiting period before the country is actually removed from their obligations under the accords. This basically takes us up to 2020, which in the US, will be time for the next presidential election campaign. If someone else wins, the decision can always be reversed.
What were his reasons?
He says that he is ‘protecting the US economy from a deal that would cost American jobs’ but is ‘open to renegotiating on terms more favourable to America’. If he can get a deal he said, great; if not, he said, fine. His Vice President, Mike Pence, stands by his decision. Trump’s speech yesterday (written by either Steve Bannon or Stephen Miller, according to John Cassidy in the New Yorker), said that signing up to the Paris Climate Accords was ‘simply the latest example of Washington entering into an agreement that disadvantages the United States, to the exclusive benefit of other countries’. Trump further said in his speech yesterday that the agreement was unfair to America and that it was effectively a ‘massive redistribution of United States wealth to other countries’. He used some study on the Paris Climate Accords as an excuse for this. The study said it that by being a signatory to the climate accords, the US would end up ‘three trillion dollars poorer’ by 2040. On the other side of the coin, in the field of technology, ‘By expanding markets for innovative clean technologies, the agreement generates jobs and economic growth’ (Cassidy, New Yorker). It should be the way of the world really. As one industry depletes, another industry replaces it. It’s all going to happen with Artificial Intelligence too.
Who remains in the deal?
195 countries remain. The US now joins Syria and Nicaragua, the only other nations in the world that didn’t sign up. If you want to know why they didn’t sign up, I have cited an article in the ‘Further Reading’ section below.
Do you think other countries might be tempted to follow suit?
Hopefully not. China and India, both big hitting countries when it comes to carbon emissions, have continued to show their support over the climate accords. If they remain, it’s less of a concern. According to Bloomberg yesterday, some countries even chose to double down on their commitments under the accord rather than follow suit.
Any notable individuals expressing disappointment?
Oh yes. Lots.
Obama called Trump’s decision an ‘abdication of leadership’ and said that he hoped individuals and companies would continue to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on their own regardless (The Hill).
Elon Musk, the Silicon Valley entrepreneur famous for Tesla electric cars, tweeted yesterday that he is ‘departing presidential councils’. He said he would if Trump made this decision and so he has. California will definitely not follow suit in abandoning the gentlemen’s agreement under the climate change accords. We all have to leave something to our ancestors, after all. And if you think that migration is bad right now as a result of civil war in the Middle East, oh just you wait and see what it’s going to be like when the climate has its way. Did Trump think of that?
Apple, Goole, Microsoft and Intel, were 4 of the tech companies (and there were others) who signed an open letter to Trump ‘urging him to keep the United States in the Paris Agreement’ (Kobert, New Yorker). In addition to this, he received another open letter that took the form of a full page advert in the Wall Street Journal. Amongst the companies involved in this: 3M, Cargill, Bank of America and Morgan Stanley, all of whom said that they were ‘concerned about the strong potential for negative trade implications if the United States exits from the Paris Agreement’ (Kolbert, New Yorker).
At the UN Headquarters in New York yesterday, the UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said it was a ‘major disappointment’. He further stated that UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, hopes that the US, along with other countries, ‘will continue to demonstrate vision and leadership by working for the low carbon, resilient economic growth that will create jobs and markets for 21st century prosperity’. The UNEP (UN Environment Programme) said ‘the science on climate change is perfectly clear: we need more action, not less’ (UN).
Refugees International said that ‘failure to address climate change will lead to more displacement, migration and humanitarian emergencies’.
Nicholas Burns, former number 3 at the US State Department and advisor to Hillary Clinton during her presidential campaign, said the following:
‘The problem that Trump has created is that, in addition to differences on trade and Russia and climate, he is sending a signal that he is ambivalent about NATO and opposed to the EU and that he sees Germany and the EU as strategic competitors. That is an absolute sea change in the US view on Europe’ (FT).
How might other countries express their annoyance over Trump’s decision?
Well, the US could face new barriers to exports to other countries if those other countries chose to respond to Trump’s withdrawal from the climate accords by imposing carbon related tariffs. They could even choose to place tariffs on non carbon related goods. Furthermore, some countries could choose just not to buy American made products out of spite.
What did the deal actually involve?
The Paris Climate Accords were agreed at the International Climate Change negotiations in Paris in December 2015 and came into force last November. It asks the signatories to work together, at their own speed, to limit the global average temperature rise to 2 degrees celsius (3.6 degrees farenheit), this being the required threshold to prevent the irreversible damage that any further temperature increase would cause globally. The countries who signed up to it are able to set their own targets for cutting emissions, for themselves, and then update those targets on a five yearly basis. The targets are not legally binding and as such, Trump could easily have chosen to focus on reducing them rather than withdrawing the US’ commitment to the deal altogether. But he didn’t. According to Elizabeth Kolbert who writes for The New Yorker: ‘… since the country’s commitment was, essentially, voluntary, the US could have remained a party to the Paris Accord while at the same time ignoring the agreement’s terms’. And they could have kept a lot more friends in the process.
Trump’s decision not only has knock on effects for the climate but for diplomatic relations further afield. Writing for The Atlantic on 31st May, the day before Trump’s decision was announced, Todd Stern, (chief climate negotiator under Obama), said that the president’s exit from Paris would be a definite snub to the rest of the world:
‘Bitterness, anger and disgust would be the wages of this careless act’, he said.
In his article Stern also quotes Ronald Reagan’s former Secretary of State George Shultz, who recently said of the Paris Agreement (not subsequent to Trump’s decision as this article was written prior):
‘Global statecraft relies on trust, reputation and credibility, which can all be too easily squandered. If America fails to honour a global agreement that it helped forge, the repercussions will undercut our diplomatic priorities across the globe’. This is clearly what Rottgen meant in his statement above.
Trump has already alienated Iran in his recent speech in Saudi Arabia when he said that they had ‘fueled the fires of sectarian conflict and terror’ (CNN). This after the years of negotiation under the Obama administration that it took to work out the 2015 Nuclear Deal, something that would have helped foster more peaceful relations.
Germany, France and Italy have also said that they regret Trump’s decision and have no interest in negotiating any other deals. (Theresa May has remained quiet on the issue, though there have been rumours that she has disapproved in a private telephone conversation). Speaking on television yesterday, Emmanuel Macron said that America has turned their back on the world.
John Cassidy for the New Yorker said the decision was a ‘screw you to the world beyond America’s borders – to the Macrons and the Merkels who had pleaded with the President in vain not to take this step’.
In terms of negotiating deals in the future, the US’ decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Accords just shows them up as being an unreliable partner who doesn’t stick to their word. Amy Davidson, again writing for The New Yorker, says that Merkel has tried to engage with Trump. She even invited his daughter Ivanka to Berlin. In a press conference at the close of the G7 summit recently in Taormina, Sicily, Merkel said:
‘Here you have a situation in which 6 – if you count the European Union, 7 – stand as one. And no one has any idea whether the United States is even going to stay in the Paris Accords ….. This Paris Climate Accord is not just some accord or the other. It is a central accord in defining the contours of globalisation …. the issue of Paris is so important that one simply can’t compromise on it’ (Merkel is quoted in Davidson’s article for The New Yorker).
The Beer Tent Speech
Furthermore, after returning to Germany following the G7 summit in Sicily, Merkel attended a beer fest in Bavaria where she had the following to say:
‘The time in which we could fully rely on others is now in the past. I have experienced that in the past several days. And, because of that, I can say now that we Europeans truly have to take our fate into our own hands – naturally, in friendship with the United States of America, in friendship with Great Britain, as good neighbours wherever that may work, with Russia and other countries. But we must understand that we must fight for our future, as Europeans, for our own fate – and that I will gladly to with you’.
There we have it: Merkel putting Europe first and inviting the others to join her. I reckon she’s definitely in for another term as Chancellor come September; or at least I hope so.
And a final update …
From the FT online at 8.29pm today:
‘Opponents of Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accord have moved to isolate Washington, with US local governments vowing to ignore the White House decision while Europe and China agreed a green alliance to take over leadership of the global climate agenda.
Michael Bloomberg, the former New York mayor, said after a meeting with French president Emmanuel Macron that US cities, states, universities and businesses would inform the UN they aimed to honour the US commitment to cut emissions by 26% from 2005 levels by 2025′.
The FT on Trump’s Paris rejection, 2.6.17:
The FT, an hour ago, ‘Paris accord’s backers in US and abroad move to isolate Trump’, 2.6.17:
Bloomberg yesterday, just after the announcement, ‘What did Trump Just Do? The Paris Climate Withdrawal Explained’, 1.6.17:
The Washington Post yesterday before the decision was announced, ‘If Trump quotes the Paris climate accord, he will lead the US into the wilderness’, 1.6.17:
The Hill, ‘Obama: Trump resets future by pulling out of the Paris climate pact’, 1.6.17:
Response from the UN, ‘US decision to withdraw from Paris climate accord a major disappointment’, 1.6.17:
The Atlantic, ‘Leaving the Paris Agreement Would Be Indefensible’, 31.5.17:
CNN, Transcript of Obama’s Saudi Arabia speech, 21.5.17:
The New Yorker, ‘Au Revoir: Trump Exits the Paris Climate Agreement’, Elizabeth Kolbert, 1.6.17:
The New Yorker, ‘Angela Merkel and the Insult of Trump’s Paris Climate Accord Withdrawal’, Amy Davidson, 1.6.17:
The New Yorker, ‘Donald Trump’s Screw You to the World’, John Cassidy, 1.6.17:
David Roberts writes for Vox Media on climate change and can be found on Twitter here:
The Washington Post, ‘Why Nicaragua and Syria didn’t join the Paris Climate Accord’, Adam Taylor, 31.5.17:
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