World Leaders to Trump: Cooperate on Climate or Pay a Price

As leaders the world over extend their initial thoughts to President-elect Trump, one message has become abundantly clear: cooperate on climate change, or risk becoming an international pariah.

Trump has been vocal in his campaign rhetoric to “renegotiate” or even "cancel" the Paris Agreement on climate change that was struck last December among almost 200 nations, but when it comes to actually flying in the face of a priority of many world leaders he may be thinking twice about those words.

Since last Tuesday's election, leaders of the world’s most powerful leaders have made it crystal clear that they are moving full steam ahead on the Paris Agreement, no matter what the United States does, and more countries are making that clear each day. Meanwhile, not a single country has indicated they will join Trump if he does move to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement. In fact, seven countries including Australia—not usually a leading light on climate action—have formally joined the agreement since the election.

China in particular has been quick to voice their aspiration to assume the position of global clean energy leadership in order to augment their geopolitical power. China recently became the number one investor in renewable energy, investing $100 billion in 2015—as much as the U.S. and European Union combined. A senior Chinese climate change official, Zou Ji, underscored that if Trump abdicates U.S. leadership on the Paris Agreement, “China’s influence and voice are likely to increase […] which will then spill over into other areas of global governance and increase China’s global standing, power and leadership.” 

This risk of decline in U.S. influence was summarized succinctly by the NRDC’s India Program Director, Anjali Jaiswal, immediately following the election:

“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. […] 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.”

Underscoring this point, a groundswell of 365 business leaders and investors today called on President-elect Trump to act on climate change by continuing to support the Paris Agreement. The group, which included over a dozen Fortune 500 companies and small businesses from over 35 states, affirmed their strong support for accelerating the clean energy revolution in order to bring greater prosperity to all.

Beyond China, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whom Trump called his favorite world leader in September, was just as frank in her first words to Trump. In her congratulatory letter, Merkel stressed that partnership with the U.S. is essential to tackle the great challenges of our time, including “working to develop far-sighted climate policy.”

Rounding out the chorus of international voices calling on Trump not to erode cooperation on climate action were a group of 59 ministers from small island countries vulnerable to climate change as well as from major economies. The statement from the ministers, representing such diverse countries as the Marshall Islands, Mexico, and Norway, read:

“The Paris Agreement marks a turning point toward a more prosperous and stable world. Acting on climate change is in all of our national interests—it is good for our environment, good for our economies, and good for our climate security. Our commitment to be climate leaders remains steadfast, as is our commitment to work with the whole international community, including the United States, to tackle one of the greatest challenges of our time.”

In sum, these clear statements from major world leaders highlight the immense priority the global community places on climate change leadership. Weak U.S. leadership would allow other countries to lead the world in the transition to a clean energy economy and reap the economic and political benefits. This scenario would result in the loss of U.S. prestige and influence, with serious consequences to the United States' trade and national security priorities on which other countries would be less inclined to cooperate.

The message world leaders are sending President-elect Trump could not be more straightforward. The price of abandoning the Paris Agreement on climate change is too steep to pay—even for a billionaire president.

About the Authors

Brendan Guy

Manager, International Policy, International program

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