Last Thursday (June 1), President Donald Trump announced that he was withdrawing the United States from the Paris Agreement, a global co-operative effort to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases in the hope of limiting global warming and reducing its effects. He also announced that he was withdrawing from the Green Climate Fund, a United Nations effort to help the developing world build up its energy infrastructure without emitting more greenhouse gases, on the grounds that it was costing the United States “a vast fortune.” The United States now joins Syria and Nicaragua as the only countries in the world not participating in the Agreement. Nicaragua felt that the accord’s voluntary agreements did not go far enough, and the Syrian government’s status as an international outcast made it hard for representatives to participate in the talks. The announcement was disappointing from my perspective as a climate scientist, to be sure, but it was not surprising. Based on his statements in the campaign and his Executive Order on energy policy, it is clear which types of energy Trump supports and which ones he doesn’t. Advocating for serious action to combat global warming is simply not consistent with his priorities.
There isn't too much that needs to be said about the President’s horribly myopic decision. You can find good point-by-point fact checks here and here, for example, so I don’t need to repeat that. But as I mentioned in my post about the Executive Order, anybody knowledgeable about jobs in the American energy sector knows that Trump’s plans won’t actually promote job growth. And anybody who knows the present cost of different types of energy knows that withdrawing has nothing to do with cheap energy, either. Nor does it erase a prohibitive expense to American taxpayers. The Paris Agreement itself did not require any binding financial commitments. Such commitments would have required President Obama to bring the accord to the Senate for a ratification vote; given the Republican majority in the Senate, the vote would not have passed. Obama voluntarily pledged three billion dollars, or ten dollars per citizen, to The Green Climate Fund. As the Fund enables developing countries to build up energy infrastructure in places that don’t currently have any by using clean, renewable sources, I don't see why this cost is unreasonable. It benefits everybody.
What is clear is that President Trump believes that the best way to deal with the energy requirements of the 21st century is to stick with what worked in the 20th century. Forget that cleaner energy sources than coal, and not just natural gas, are now cheaper. Forget also that the entire rest of the world (except for Syria, whose people ironically have likely suffered far more than any other country to date from the effects of global warming) remains firmly committed to developing these energy resources further, regardless of what our President says or does. Present economics dictates that Trump’s approach is counterproductive, and science indicates that it will do significant environmental harm. He is essentially mortgaging the status of the United States as a leader in the the world, and the health of our planet as a whole, on obsolescent technology.
None of this should be taken as a cause for despair, however. For one thing, the Paris Agreement was written so that withdrawing from it will take time. Article 28 of the Accord states “At any time after three years from the date on which this Agreement has entered into force for a Party, that Party may withdraw from this Agreement by giving written notification to the Depositary. Any such withdrawal shall take effect upon expiry of one year from the date of receipt by the Depositary of the notification of withdrawal, or on such later date as may be specified in the notification of withdrawal.” The Accord can be withdrawn from more rapidly if Trump also withdraws the United States from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The Convention was entered into by President George H. W. Bush in 1992, and Democratic and Republican presidents alike have willingly participated. Abandoning it would cement the United States as a rogue nation in the eyes of the rest of the world, and I can’t fathom that even Trump would find such a move prudent. So barring that, the earliest date that the withdrawal can officially take effect is November 4, 2020 — the day after the next Presidential election. A lot can happen in the meantime.
Also, states and cities are taking the situation into their own hands. In the wake of the withdrawal announcement, the states of New York, California, and Washington formed the U. S. Climate Alliance to maintain their part of American compliance with the Paris Agreement. The best response to this, ultimately, is action at the statewide and local level, and this appears to be happening. Action to combat global warming does not have to start at the top. Right now, that is a very good thing.