This morning, Donald Trump announced the United States will withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change. This might go down in history as the ultimate dick move.
The thing is, Trump is not only pulling the fingers to the rest of the world, he’s shooting his own country in the foot. It’s difficult to find the words, but perhaps it can be best summed up in one of Trump’s personal favourites: SAD!
Better out than in?
Ultimately it is actions that matter, and Trump has already made perfectly clear that his administration intends to repeal the key emissions reduction policies and rules put in place by Obama.
The man he appointed to run the Environmental Protection Agency is a renowned climate change denier who has sued the EPA more than a dozen times attempting to block Obama’s clean air and water regulations. Already the Trump administration has moved to kill Obama’s Clean Power Plan and fuel economy rules for vehicles. They clearly have no intention to fulfill Obama’s emissions reduction pledge, nor the $3 billion financial contribution promised to the Green Climate Fund.
The Paris Agreement relies on global cooperation and goodwill for it to work, and there are no sanctions for countries that don’t fulfil their commitments. So is it better the US pulls out rather than stay and undermine the Agreement’s integrity? Some argue yes.
There is no sign of any other countries looking to follow the US into exile, with even Australia and Russia reaffirming their commitment to the Paris Agreement. China and the EU also made a joint announcement promising to strengthen their commitment. Perhaps it is better with the US as an outright pariah rather than a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
The worst thing will be for the Trump Administration to try to obstruct the global momentum and renegotiate a weaker deal. Worryingly that is exactly what Trump suggested in his statement. But this has been swiftly rebuked by France, Germany and Italy who say the deal cannot be renegotiated.
Clinging to the past won’t create jobs
Naturally, Trump’s statement was filled with falsehoods. Perhaps most wrongheaded of all is the idea that pulling out of Paris will benefit the US economy. More likely is that the US will be the biggest loser.
What Trump thinks he is doing vs what he is actually doing
Trump’s team is clinging to the antiquated idea that they can “make coal great again”, when the world has decisively and irreversibly moved on to clean energy. In the latest sign of the times, India just cancelled nearly 14 GW of coal plants as the cost of solar power hit a new record low. In the US, more than three times as many people are now employed in renewable energy as in the coal industry. The OECD just released a landmark report showing how tackling climate change will actually boost economic growth.
The states fight back
While the US federal government is subbing out, that doesn’t mean the US won’t be acting. Cities and states such as California are already leading the charge, and Trump’s move will drive more to step up. Some states may even seek to enter the Paris Agreement themselves.
Immediately following Trump’s announcement, Governors of Washington, California and New York (together responsible for 11% of US emissions) launched a new coalition called the United States Climate Alliance.
In his speech Trump made the laughable statement that “I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris”. This is what the Mayor of Pittsburgh had to say in return:
The fact is that Trump’s move does not actually reflect the will of the people; quite the opposite. The majority in every state – even the deep red Republican ones – want the US to participate in the Paris Agreement. That includes nearly half of Trump voters, compared with only around a quarter that want the US to not participate.
Which side is NZ on?
The increased cross-party collaboration on climate change in New Zealand, contrasted with the toxic politics in the US and Australia, is something to take heart in. Climate Change Minister Paula Bennett also delivered some fairly strong criticism for Trump this morning, saying “I personally think so much of what [Trump has] said is wrong”.
But again, it’s the action that ultimately counts, and on that front New Zealand is sorely lacking. In fact, while the US has reduced its CO2 emissions by 5% since 2010, New Zealand’s have risen by nearly 3%. The latest national figures released last week show that our total greenhouse gas emissions would have been up again in 2015 if not for the impact of the 2014/15 drought, which led farmers to temporarily destock. We’re still heading in the wrong direction.
So is New Zealand going to be an action taker, or continue to be an excuse maker? If we want to avoid being lumped in the same camp of climate wreckers as Donald Trump, our Government needs to step up and show the leadership that has been lacking. Now would be the perfect time to announce some bold new policy.