US president Donald Trump on Thursday withdrew the US from the landmark Paris climate accord, which he said was not tough on India and China, and alleged that the deal was negotiated "poorly" by the Obama administration and signed out of "desperation".
America's withdrawal from the climate-rescue Paris Agreement under Donald Trump is a blow to global unity but may be a blessing in disguise for the pact itself, observers said on Thursday.
This way, the Trump administration, heavily influenced by the fossil fuel industry, will have less sway over the UN climate process, they said. "A rogue US can cause more damage inside... than outside of the agreement," said Luke Kemp, a climate policy lecturer at the Australian National University.
Continued US participation in the Paris forum would have been merely symbolic, and yielded no impact on reducing US emissions of planet-warming greenhouse gases, he argued. "It's better Trump is outside the agreement rather than pulling it down from the inside," added Mohamed Adow of Christian Aid, which lobbies for poor country interests at the two-decade-old UN climate negotiations.
"With Trump we were at best only going to have America's name on the agreement," he told AFP. Trump announced America is "getting out" of a deal he said imposed "draconian" burdens that would cost the US millions of jobs and billions in cold hard cash.
The pact was "very unfair" to the United States and beneficial to other major polluters like China and India, the president claimed. His proposal to open negotiations for a new or updated deal was quickly rebuffed by France, Italy and Germany, leaving America out in the diplomatic cold.
Veteran observers of the decades-old process welcomed an end to the "will he, won't he?" seesaw that has distracted the ongoing climate talks since Trump's election last November. And they warned the United States would be hardest hit — economically and diplomatically by the fallout.
"The decision is based on last century's economics and will turn the US into last century's economy," Andrew Steer, president of the World Resources Institute (WRI) think-tank, predicted. According to the CITEPA research institute, America's renewable energy sector in America employed some 800,000 people in 2016 — nearly five times more than the fossil-fuel sector.
Fossil fuel 'sacrifice'
Hundreds of American companies have urged the Trump administration to stay the clean energy course. Not only does the US stand to lose economically, but it would also throw away enormous diplomatic clout, commentators argued.
"We are witnessing a seismic shift in the global order as Europe, China and others lead the way forward," said Greenpeace executive director Jennifer Morgan. According to the rules of the agreement, the US can only give notice of its withdrawal three years after the deal's entry into force in November 2016.
Withdrawal will take effect a year later — taking us to November 2020, just two months before Trump's term ends. It is not clear if the US will seek to continue participating in UN climate talks until then, or simply stay away. Trump on Thursday announced the United States would "cease all implementation" of the pact "as of today."
On the campaign trail, Trump had called climate change a "hoax" perpetrated by China. As president, he quickly appointed a former CEO of oil giant ExxonMobil as his secretary of state, and an anti-climate litigator to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The president has moved to loosen restrictions on coal-fired power plants and vehicle emissions, slash EPA funding, and reverse his predecessor Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan.
"Donald Trump is on a mission to sacrifice our planet to the fossil fuel industry," commented Erich Pica of lobby group Friends of the Earth. The Obama administration had pledged a reduction of 26-28 percent in US planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 over 2005 levels.
Pledges under the agreement are not binding under international law, and Trump said Thursday he would not honour the US commitment. This may imperil the agreement's enshrined goal of holding average global warming "well below" two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-Industrial Revolution levels -- already a tall order even with the US on board.
Observers tried to remain cheerful — pointing to the commitment of many American companies, cities, and states, with California in the lead — to a green energy economy. But it is not yet known to what extent these efforts would make up the federal shortfall, if at all. One tangible danger from a US withdrawal from the political sphere, is that it may encourage other intransigent polluters to follow suit.
So far, the world's other major emitters — China in first place, the EU in third, and India at number four, have all publicly recommitted to the Paris pact. Another risk to the process is money. Trump has threatened to slash international climate funding — which was a condition for poor countries to sign onto the deal. The US under Obama was the largest contributor to the Green Climate Fund.
Trump's decision has made many world leaders unhappy, especially captains of industry and various business groups distanced themselves from the White House on Thursday. Trump said he was championing the people of Pittsburgh by leaving the Paris climate accord. But the city's Mayor Bill Peduto did not take kindly to the shout-out.
.@POTUS "I was elected by voters of Pittsburgh, not Paris. I promised I wld exit or renegotiate any deal which fails to serve US interests"
— Sean Spicer (@PressSec) June 1, 2017
In announcing his pullout from a deal that failed to "put America first," the US president on Thursday cited the northeastern city saying: "I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris."
As the Mayor of Pittsburgh, I can assure you that we will follow the guidelines of the Paris Agreement for our people, our economy & future. https://t.co/3znXGTcd8C — bill peduto (@billpeduto) June 1, 2017
But Peduto took issue with Trump's invocation of his city.
"As the Mayor of Pittsburgh, I can assure you that we will follow the guidelines of the Paris Agreement for our people, our economy; future," he posted in one of a feisty series of tweets that swiftly went viral.
Peduto echoed that criticism, tweeting: "The United States joins Syria, Nicaragua & Russia in deciding not to participate with world's Paris Agreement. It's now up to cities to lead."
The United States joins Syria, Nicaragua & Russia in deciding not to participate with world's Paris Agreement. It's now up to cities to lead
— bill peduto (@billpeduto) June 1, 2017
Trump went on to declare: "It is time to put Youngstown, Ohio; Detroit, Michigan; and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania — along with many other great locations in our country — before Paris, France."
And it's not just Peduto, US governors have formed a 'climate club' to defend the Paris Accord.
Democratic state governors from California, New York and Washington formed an immediate alliance on Thursday. The three states represent more than one-fifth of US gross domestic product, are home to 68 million people, or nearly one in five Americans, and account for at least 10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, the governors said.
California's Jerry Brown, New York's Andrew Cuomo and Washington state's Jay Inslee — all democrats — urged other states to join their United States Climate Alliance, saying that they were committed to taking aggressive action against climate change.
They remain committed to achieving the US goal of reducing emissions by 26-28 percent from 2005 levels, and meeting or exceeding the targets of a federal Clean Power Plan, they said.
Cuomo said the "reckless" decision, announced by the Republican commander-in-chief on Thursday, would have "devastating repercussions" for the planet, and accused the US administration of abdicating its global leadership.
"New York State is committed to meeting the standards set forth in the Paris accord regardless of Washington's irresponsible actions," he said.
"If the president is going to be AWOL in this profoundly important human endeavor, then California and other states will step up," said Brown.
"While the president's actions are a shameful rebuke to the work needed to protect our planet for our children and grandchildren, states have been and will continue to step up," added Inslee.
The governors said the alliance would work to sustain and strengthen existing climate programs, promote the sharing of information and best practices, and implement new programs to reduce carbon emissions from all sectors of the economy.
Trump announced from the White House that the United States would withdraw from the 2015 Paris agreement and try to negotiate a new global deal on climate change, provoking swift condemnation of European leaders.
With inputs from agencies
Published Date: Jun 02, 2017 07:32 am | Updated Date: Jun 02, 2017 07:31 am