Eyes on Paris Climate Agreement

All eyes are on the United States with the question of whether President Trump will decide to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement. And no wonder, Trump has turned his decisions on climate action into another episode in his reality TV show—with reports of vying factions and an upcoming “huddle” this week. It is also a live question as federal climate safeguards are under attack by the Trump Administration and Congress.  

The U.S. remaining part of the Paris Climate Agreement matters. With or without formal U.S. participation, climate progress in U.S. states and around the world is still continuing. However, the U.S. choice to remain in this climate agreement and to strengthen rather than weaken our targets is critical to meet the urgency of climate change. It is critical to maintain a strong position for our country and for American businesses in many arenas internationally. Cooperation on climate matters to cooperation on trade and security. If he makes the choice to withdraw from Paris, President Trump will be accountable for the damage that is coming.

The urgency to act on climate is stronger than ever. Climate change is hurting our communities, our children, and our economic progress. The American public strongly supports climate and clean energy action. So do many American cities and states.

Since the election, President Trump has heard from many, including industry leaders, asking that the U.S. remain in the Paris Climate Agreement. Trump has ranged from a campaign call to “cancel” the agreement to a post-election reevaluation to “keep an open mind” about the historic pact reached in 2015 to curb climate pollution.

In terms of timing, White House Press Secretary Spicer indicated that the U.S. will make a decision on the Paris Agreement by the start of the G7 meeting at the end of May.

At this point, the best reading of the tea leaves in Washington says that Trump would not withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, but would weaken the U.S. commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Currently, the U.S. has committed to a reduction of 26-28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025.

The repercussions from  withdrawing U.S. climate leadership will be felt at home—environmentally and economically. A U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement or a weakening of the US target may make other countries uncooperative on other important U.S. objectives including trade and security. Trump campaigned on a promise to make better deals with other countries, from trade agreements to alliances to fight terrorism. Withdrawing from the Paris Agreement would send a clear message that America is an unreliable partner that fails to live up to its commitments. It will also handicap the competitiveness of American businesses in clean energy—a $1.3 trillion yearly global market. And it will worsen climate change which is hurting the health and economy throughout America with $46 billion in losses from extreme weather and climate disasters  in 2016 alone.

Let’s be clear—it is essential that the U.S. not withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement. Climate science demands that we meet and move beyond our targets. That is the necessary path for us to keep global warming to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius.

However, the U.S. seems to be moving backwards on international climate commitments in a number of arenas. In the recent minister-level meeting of the G7, U.S. Energy Secretary Perry refused to join the other G7 ministers in reaffirming country commitment towards the implementation of the Paris Agreement. Secretary Perry went even further in the wrong direction, seeking to include support for expanding fossil fuels.

Other efforts like proposals to gut the U.S. government’s budget for international climate action would similarly undermine climate progress and U.S. leadership.The President’s “starvation” budget is luckily likely dead on arrival in Congress, but it shows a plan that would cut international aid and eliminate U.S. contributions to the Green Climate Fund. The Green Climate Fund is a smart investment that will reduce climate pollution and assist with resilience in developing countries. The Fund would also open new markets for American clean energy. Not only does the U.S. have a responsibility as one of the world’s largest climate pollution emitters to help mitigate the damage from climate change, cutting the U.S. contribution flies in the face of this Administration’s desire to keep American companies competitive internationally. China has pledged $3.1 billion to assist developing countries in addressing climate change. Germany currently provides $2.2 billion a year in international climate support and will double that to $4.5 billion a year by 2020. If US. contributions are reduced or eliminated at a time when other countries are stepping up, this will mean a direct reduction in U.S. influence in the world.

Luckily, Trump’s actions do not determine the whole of U.S. climate action.

President Trump cannot undo regulations by fiat. Undoing a regulation such as the Clean Power Plan or the clean car standard takes the same process as creating it. Any new, weaker rules must be supported by a compelling legal rationale and science-based factual record—one strong enough to pass muster when NRDC and our allies take them to court.  In fact, NRDC has already filed in court to defend the Clean Power Plan.

Further, the U.S. power sector is in the midst of a significant clean energy transition, propelled by market forces with the rapidly falling cost of clean energy technologies, multiyear tax credits passed by Congress in 2015, and state-level clean energy leadership. In the power sector, emissions fell to 25 percent below 2005 levels in 2016, reaching their lowest levels since 1988. Wind and solar capacity is widely expected to continue their rapid growth unabated in the near-term and to double from 2015 levels by 2021, as a result of rapidly falling costs, federal tax credits, and state renewable portfolio standards. In the transportation sector, new cars are achieving record high fuel economies.

We also see that cities across the United States remain committed to strong climate policies in their support of energy efficient buildings, electric vehicle infrastructure, and public transit.  This is important since American cities can contribute more than 1/3 of the emissions reductions needed to meet the U.S. target under the Paris Agreement.

In addition, over 1000 American companies and investors with over $1.2 trillion in annual revenues have signed a statement to President Trump since his election, urging continued participation in the Paris Agreement and low-carbon policies at home to meet the U.S. national climate target.

And the American public support for climate and clean energy action has strengthened. A Quinnipiac University poll released April 5 showed that 2/3 of American voters take climate change personally and want to see climate regulations remain in place.  A Chicago Council survey from late November 2016 found that more than 7 in 10 Americans say the U.S. should participate in the Paris Agreement.

Globally, we also continue to see a strong growth in clean energy and progress in reducing climate pollution.

All of this adds up to real progress in fighting climate change and meeting our international commitments. It also further emphasizes how out of step this Administration will be with the American people and with the rest of the world if it withdraws the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement.

Join us at the Peoples Climate March on April 29. Take action to protect our climate.

On April 29, NRDC will march for our climate and for the well-being of future generations. Will you join us?

About the Authors

Susan Casey-Lefkowitz

Chief Program Officer

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