Trump’s announcement to exit the Paris Climate Agreement was a blow to years of hard work and the promise of global collective action. Yet, it’s not a death knell for climate progress. Keep these talking points in mind in response to the Trump administration’s claims:
Claim: The deal was negotiated badly, and extracts meaningless commitments
The reductions outlined in the Paris Agreement offer a chance to halt rising temperatures on a global scale and show an international commitment to accelerating the low-carbon economy. The Paris Agreement represents a global consensus to take action on climate. After decades of negotiations, the agreement came into force in 2016 with 197 countries agreeing to curb greenhouse gas emissions by setting achievable non-binding targets. A common refrain is that the non-binding nature of the “lacks teeth”, but this sentiment undermines the strong signal it sends when the governments of the world join together and choose a new direction for the planet.
Claim: The agreement undermines U.S. competitiveness and jobs
The Paris Agreement is an opportunity to drive economic growth by bringing clean energy jobs to the U.S. and fostering leadership in the burgeoning sector of innovative low-carbon technology and infrastructure. The price of wind and solar are dropping fast and renewables are now the second-largest source of electricity after coal, providing almost a quarter of the world’s energy. Trump’s decision puts U.S. companies at a significant competitive disadvantage. Climate solutions offer economic opportunities and withdrawal from the agreement threatens the U.S.’s ability to compete in the clean energy economy.
Claim: the U.S. can reduce emissions without the agreement
U.S. leadership in the Paris Agreement is an important part of the equation to shift investments from short-term fossil fuel gains toward growing renewable energy markets. By pulling out of the agreement, Trump forfeits American leadership by positioning the U.S. alone with Syria and Nicaragua as the only non-signers. The U.S. is the second largest carbon emitter and the exit disincentivizes follow-through from other nations. Legally, the U.S. isn’t eligible to leave the agreement until November 4, 2020 (coincidentally the day after the next presidential election), although Trump may continue to unravel climate commitments through efforts to dismantle the Clean Power Plan or abandoning the UNFCCC.
It’s true that in the absence of Paris Agreement, the U.S. will depend on local, states and business leaders to lead. States, cities, and businesses across the U.S. are reaffirming their commitments to 100% renewable energy and the clean energy economy’s momentum will continue to build. However, federal leadership remains critical to achieving the large-scale emission reductions required to halt rising temperatures.
So what’s next?
Trump’s decision to exit the Paris Agreement is in direct conflict with public opinion as a majority of Americans, and slightly less than half of self-identified Trump voters, are in favor of the agreement and increased government action on climate, not to mention broad bipartisan support for renewable energy development. Continued dependence on fossil fuels and high levels of emissions means negative health impacts and threats from extreme weather, particularly for low-income communities of color.
While shortsighted and a step in the wrong direction, withdrawal from the Paris Agreement is by no means the final say on climate change for the U.S. Continued pressure for federal leadership is critical, while also turning attention to communicating the benefits of climate action and strengthening support for local and state-level climate solutions, from accelerating the low-carbon energy transition to preparing for climate impacts.