Keeping the Promise of Paris Alive

Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement was disastrous—for our country and our children. It’s time for the rest of us to step up.

Shawn Thew/EPA/Newscom

In withdrawing U.S. participation from the Paris climate accord, President Trump has made a grave and grievous blunder. It starts hurting the country right now—and leaves our kids to pay the price.

Trump’s extremism has isolated us from the global coalition we helped to create—with China, Germany, India, Brazil, and 190 other countries—to fight the growing dangers of climate change. This undercuts the best shot we have to rally the international cooperation needed to battle the central environmental challenge of our time. It won’t help, either, next time we need help from other nations to cope with everything from trade and development to terrorism and war.

Diplomacy is based on trust. By breaking our promise to the rest of the world, Trump has undermined our credibility, weakened us abroad, and diminished our ability to influence events and outcomes that directly impact U.S. interests.

Right now, more than three million Americans go to work each day helping us to become more energy efficient so we do more with less waste, to build the next generation electric and hybrid cars, and to get more clean power from the wind and sun.

And the Paris Agreement provides a framework for creating even more—millions more—clean energy jobs worldwide, with an estimated $7 trillion in global investment expected in the coming 20 years. Competition for that market begins at home, and American workers deserve their fair share. Bombing out of the global coalition for clean energy success doesn’t help.

And what does our country get in return? Policies that anchor our future to the dirty fuels of the past—and all the hazard and harm they bring. That’s not great. It’s disastrous.

It’ll take years to withdraw from the accord, but the message is immediate: Trump is putting the United States out of step with science, at odds with the community of nations, and disadvantaged in the economic play of our lifetime.

That, though, isn’t the worst of it. He’s telling our children to, essentially, go to you-know-where. Abandoning future generations to a life of unchecked fossil fuel consumption would condemn them to a truly hellish world.

We just finished the hottest year since global record-keeping began in 1880. Of the 17 hottest years on record, 16 have occurred in this century. The impacts are everywhere.

Seas are rising. Croplands are turning to desert. Heat waves are growing more lethal. Wildfires and floods are raging. The Great Barrier Reef is dying.

Here’s who says this is a problem: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the gold standard for climate research worldwide; the National Academy of Sciences, established by Congress during the Civil War to tell us the bedrock truth about what’s happening to our world; NASA, the people who put a man on the moon. And finally, the leaders of almost 200 nations, who are counting on the United States to step up and show the kind of leadership that’s defined our country up till now. 

With Trump retreating from that role and all the progress we have to show for it, the rest of us must somehow keep the promise of Paris alive.

That starts with members of Congress who grasp the stakes for our country. It means leaders of our cities, which account for the lion’s share of our energy consumption and the greatest part of the solution to climate change. It includes governors and legislators of our states, 37 of which have set targets or standards for advancing renewable energy and efficiency. And it takes in business executives from blue-chip companies like General Motors, Apple, Google, Coca-Cola, Walmart, the Bank of America, and hundreds of others, large and small, that not only support the Paris Agreement but are also working to cut their own carbon footprint because it’s the right thing to do.

Most of all, it means people like you and me, doing what we can, every way we can, in our workplaces and homes, to support those fighting for cleaner, smarter ways to power our future and hold those who don’t to account.

There may be no more important test of leadership than how fully we fulfill the promise we make to leave our children a livable world, a brighter, more hopeful world even than what was left to us. Donald Trump has failed that test. He’s broken that promise. Will the rest of us step up to keep it?

About the Authors

Rhea Suh

Former President

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