What President Trump Should Say (but Won’t) at the UN

President Trump will deliver his inaugural address to the international community gathered for the United Nations General Assembly in New York. In previous years the U.S. President used this opportunity to speak to other leaders about how to address climate change—the biggest global environmental threat facing humanity. President Trump should use this opportunity to lay out how he has changed his mind on climate change and will now turn his Administration into a global leader on climate action. We are skeptical he will lay out such a vision.

During the U.N. General Assembly’s signature general debate, world leaders typically take turns sharing their visions for the world and their country’s role in advancing progress toward that vision in 15-minute speeches. And while it’s impossible to predict what Trump will say during any speech—let alone one this widely anticipated—one thing is a near certainty: Trump will not express support for U.S. global leadership on climate change through the Paris Climate Agreement.

President Trump signaled in June that the U.S. would abandon the historic Paris Agreement and thus surrender American global leadership on one of the defining challenges of our time. Despite some short-lived optimistic headlines over the weekend that he may not withdraw after all, President Trump still does not get that staying in the Paris Agreement and acting on climate change is in America’s national interest—for our citizens, our workers, and our children alike.

A true global leader on climate change would step up to the U.N. podium on Tuesday and offer a sober assessment of the risks of climate change and outline steps to address the problem, similar to what other leaders have done years past. For example, all the way back in 2007 German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated that “climate change in undoubtedly one of the central challenges facing humanity today. […] All industrialized countries will have to drastically reduce their per-capita emissions.”

And if Trump wants to look closer to home to see what true global climate leadership looks like on the world stage, President Obama’s address to U.N. in 2010 emphasized:

“The danger posed by climate change cannot be denied. Our responsibility to meet it must not be deferred. If we continue down our current course, every member of this Assembly will see irreversible changes within their borders. Our efforts to end conflicts will be eclipsed by wars over refugees and resources. Development will be devastated by drought and famine. Land that human beings have lived on for millennia will disappear.

Future generations will look back and wonder why we refused to act; why we failed to pass on an environment that was worthy of our inheritance. And that is why the days when America dragged its feet on this issue are over.”

And yet the international community should not hold its breath that President Trump will do anything but continue to dig in his heels on global climate progress. True global leadership would see President Trump address the climate challenge head on with innovative solutions, and rejoin the Paris Agreement as the international community’s best shot to leave a safe climate and more prosperous world to our children.

With the Trump Administration floating this notion that they might “rejoin” the Paris Agreement, countries need to remember that the Paris Agreement was built on the idea that countries need to strive for greater climate action over time—not watered down ambition.    

About the Authors

Jake Schmidt

Managing Director, International program

Brendan Guy

Manager, International Policy, International program
Blog Post

We need to send a clear signal to the world that President Trump is alone in not acting on climate change and that other countries should continue to step up the pace of their own climate actions.

Blog Post

After Trump made a reckless decision yesterday to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Agreement I was privileged to join an impromptu rally outside the White House to let President Trump know that the American public strongly disagree with his decision.

Blog Post

President Trump recklessly announced that he's pulling the United States out of the Paris Agreement. Leaders everywhere responded resolutely with strong signals that they are going to continue to move forward.

Join Us

When you sign up you'll become a member of NRDC's Activist Network. We will keep you informed with the latest alerts and progress reports.