DONALD TRUMP announced on 1 June that the United States would withdraw from the Paris Agreement, citing that he “was elected to represent Pittsburgh, not Paris”. Trump has indicated willingness to renegotiate the accord on more favourable terms, but this was quickly dismissed by European leaders. In the run-up to the decision, US partners had attempted to convince Trump to reconsider at the G7 summit in Sicily. Notably, Pope Francis presented Trump with his work on climate change during his visit to the Vatican. There has been near unanimous condemnation from the international community, with Germany’s Angela Merkel calling it “deeply regrettable”, and Emmanuel Macron, the newly-elected French President, calling for US climate scientists to move to France to continue their work there. China is widely expected to take on the mantle of global climate leadership: concerns about toxic industrial byproducts and poor air quality make environmental issues far more salient domestic policy than in the relatively clean west. Per the provisions of the Agreement, the earliest that America could formally withdraw is in 2019.
The Paris Agreement is the most comprehensive international accord to date that attempts to tackle anthropogenic climate change, with 191 out of 193 recognised UN member countries signing the agreement. The US withdrawal adds a third country to the non-signatory list, alongside Nicaragua, and Syria. The former criticised the agreement as a half-measure due to the accord being non-binding, and the latter is embroiled in a bloody and protracted civil war. The agreement stipulates that all signatories set their own national targets to reduce emissions on a voluntary basis, with the aim of maintaining global temperature increases to below 2ºC, the temperature cut off that climate scientists widely believe to be the proverbial point of no return. Beyond 2ºC, scientists predict that natural disasters and o t h e r climaterelated catastrophes will become commonplace, with extreme implications. Climate change related desertification, for example, has been connected to the intensification of the European refugee crisis by directly affecting food yields in the Middle East and North Africa.
Domestically, the reaction has at once been negative, but also extremely galvanising. The Republican Party remains the exception, and most members espouse climate revisionism. While no longer explicitly denying the phenomenon, it is argued that human agency does not have an impact on the health of the environment. However, Democrats, incensed at the dismantling of one of Obama’s flagship policy legacies, criticised the decision even before it was made. Some individual US states and cities have individually committed to following the provisions of the agreement, despite official federal policy. A bipartisan group of states, including California, Colorado, and Connecticut, created the United States Climate Alliance and committed to meeting the Paris Agreement’s goals by enacting the Obama-era Clean Power Plan. Further embarrassment came in a New York Times piece, where the Mayor of Pittsburgh – the city Trump cited in his decision – jointly condemned the move with Anne Hidalgo, the Mayor of Paris.
This is not the first time the US has withdrawn support from a global climate initiative. US withdrawal heavily undermined the Kyoto Protocol that was established in 1997. Since both the US and China were not party to the agreement, their emissions effectively cancelled out progress in reducing net global emissions that had been made by other industrialised countries. The difference today is in the levels of public awareness, and the general domestic dissatisfaction surrounding Trump’s administration. Unwittingly, Trump may yet save the planet.