Will the U.S. Withdraw from the Paris Agreement?

World leaders at the Paris climate conference
Credit: Presidencia de la Republica Mexico/Flickr

It’s a big week around the world. Countries are meeting in Morocco to strengthen climate action under the Paris Agreement. Donald Trump has been elected as President of the United States. Air pollution levels are at an all-time high while renewables are outpacing coal in India. 

There are a lot of questions from India and elsewhere on whether Mr. Trump could withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement. Countries around the world have signaled that stepping away from the Paris agreement would be a bad move for several reasons. For example, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has emphasized India’s commitment to strong action on climate change, highlighting that it is the right thing to do for the people of India and overall economic growth.

There are several compelling reasons for the United States not to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. The following are three key reasons:

The Law: The United States, India, China and many nations already ratified the accord, and the Paris Agreement is now in force. The agreement has a four year waiting period for any country seeking to withdraw under Article 28. November 4, 2020 is the earliest possible exit, right before the next election. Undoing the agreement would be tricky, burn political capital, and take several years. Any notions of noncompliance would be a serious violation of U.S. and international laws.

Economic Growth: The U.S. risks losing the global race to dominate clean energy technology and markets if it were to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. U.S. companies are aggressively competing in the global clean energy race. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, “we’ll reach a tipping point in 2027, when new wind and solar power actually become cheaper than running existing coal and gas generators in much of the world.” Many countries stand ready to corner the market and jump into world leadership roles, including the fastest growing major economies – India and China. Retreating from the Paris Agreement also means job loss for American companies – such as General Electric, the largest U.S. wind turbine manufacturer. The U.S. wind industry alone creates tens of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars. Investing in clean energy development and the financing measures under the Paris Agreement boosts the U.S. economy and global competitiveness. No country will wait for the U.S.

Leadership: Mr. Trump ran on “Make America Great Again”. Since World War II, countries have looked to the United States for leadership. Mr. Trump has many things he wants from other leaders, and scrapping the Paris Agreement will cost him respect and leverage that he needs to win those issues. Cooperation on climate change is linked to global cooperation, and relationships on lots of issues – such as energy security, terrorism, and international business transactions, to name a few. Leading with a salvo on the Paris Agreement would make the U.S. an international pariah, not only on climate but a host of critical issues. 

Retreating from the strategic partnerships with India, China and other countries to reach the Paris Climate Agreement, would also turn our backs on the most vulnerable people in the United States and around the world. Superstorm Sandy wreaked unprecedented havoc on communities across New York and New Jersey, leaving low income communities to pick up the bill. Lethal heat waves, devastating flooding, and air pollution spikes show how climate change impacts are increasing and underscoring the need for solutions.

While climate change was not a focus during the election, Mr. Trump’s campaign comments are getting attention in Morocco and around the world. But, as David Sandalow, former U.S. Department of Energy official explains, governing is different than campaigning, and we will need to wait to see what Mr. Trump does.

The reality is that climate change is happening. The science on climate change is solid. The overwhelming majority of people around the world – including the United States, India and China – support climate action and the Paris Agreement. World leaders embraced the Paris Agreement with extraordinary speed. The Paris Agreement has officially taken effect. Retreating from that would be difficult, to say the least, and would only hurt the United States as a leader. 

Waves crash ashore near the Verrazano Bridge in Brooklyn, ahead of Sandy.
Credit: Source: caphotosnewyork/Flickr