Trump Against The World — Withdrawal From Paris Threatens Both Global Security and Economic Competitiveness

Energy. It’s the foundation for any modern economic system.

But if the extraction and use of that energy generates harm in the form of serious negative health impacts and ultimate environmental destruction, then it is accurate to say that continuing such energy use is unsustainable. That, ultimately, economies dependent on energy in the form of oil, gas, and coal will fail even as the world suffers the broadening calamities of an ever-worsening climate. Even the U.S. military is concerned about the ever-worsening situation — calling climate change a global threat multiplier.

For decades, a slow progress has been made toward accessing sustainable forms of energy like wind, solar, and electrified transportation. Such a transition away from fossil fuels and toward these new energy sources was accurately seen by many experts as the best way to ensure that humankind avoided the worst destabilizing impacts of emissions-driven climate change while also retaining access to the benefits provided by modern technological systems. And since at least the 1980s a political struggle has been underway between the agencies supporting a renewable energy transition and those opposing it. Related to this struggle are the various global climate summits and emissions reduction agreements. For it is abundantly clear to anyone following the issue that if the nations of the world do not curtail and ultimately halt the burning of fossil fuels, then, sooner or later, a catastrophic climate state will be reached.

The Paris Climate Summit — A Breakthrough Global Consensus

In December of 2015, as the global climate situation continued to worsen and the cost of renewable energy systems plummeted, 195 nations signed a landmark climate agreement in Paris. The agreement aimed to dramatically reduce global carbon emissions even as it set aside funding to begin to prepare for the already-worsening impacts of human-caused climate change. Under the non-binding agreement, these nations pledged to reduce carbon emissions enough to take the world off a very dangerous business-as-usual emissions pathway. If nations honestly met their pledges under the first phase of the agreement, the amount of warming during the 21st Century could be reduced from a rather catastrophic 4.5 degrees Celsius to a still very damaging 3.3 degrees Celsisus.

(Parties of the Paris Climate Summit are shown in orange, signatories are shown in green and light blue. Those not involved in the summit are in purple. Trump’s withdrawal from the accord is contrary to majority sentiment both at home and abroad. Image source:  L. Tak.)

This initial reduction pathway was not ideal. It was, however, quite substantial. A longer-term pledge was made to try to keep global temperatures below 2 C (and even less than 1.5 C) — a goal that assumed far more aggressive emissions cuts in the years to come. But what the initial Paris pledges did achieve was to firmly set the world on a course in which fossil fuel dominance of energy systems (and their related harmful emissions) would likely become a thing of the past by or before mid century even as serious economic and political muscle pushed forward the emerging clean-technology revolution.

This first phase of carbon emissions reductions would be achieved by primarily shifting away from coal burning and relying more on natural gas, but also by starting to fast-track renewable energy adoption. India and China, in a critical measure, committed to de-emphasize coal plants as a basis for future economic development and instead turned more toward wind and solar energy adoption.

Developed and less developed nations alike pledged billions of dollars for a Green Climate Fund that would help the poorest countries in the world both move away from fossil fuel burning and adapt to already emerging climate impacts. Meanwhile, business leaders began to see some major opportunities coming through the development of less harmful industries.

(Trump’s withdrawal from the climate summit could sabotage key emerging U.S. industries such as electrical vehicle production from places like Tesla’s Gigafactory. Image source: Tesla.)

In all of this process and negotiation, the U.S. took a leading role. And for good reason. For a number of the key industries and technologies that would enable these emissions reductions were emergent in the United States. And U.S. citizens and industry both stood to benefit from the clean energy revolution and energy independence that would inevitably follow. But these new industries depended in part on policy support and direction provided by communities, states and nations both at home and around the world. Industries that would ultimately provide hundreds of thousands of jobs and, more importantly, create a far more virtuous and advanced economic system than that presently supported by old and dirty oil, gas, and coal.

Trump’s Withdrawal From Paris Meets With Stiff Resistance at Home and Abroad

This week, by withdrawing from the Paris Climate Summit, President Trump intentionally threw a monkey wrench into this potential for American leadership during the 21st Century. The U.S. is now one of just three countries not to join the agreement. Nicaragua abstained because that vulnerable country saw the agreement as not going far enough (viewing non-binding provisions as lacking force). Syria failed to sign due to ongoing internal strife. The U.S. signed the agreement under a far-wiser Obama administration. Under Trump, the nation has no excuse or substantive reason to withdraw. And despite much false talk coming from the Administration about how ‘Paris hurts America,’ Trump’s move amounts to little more than clinging to a sinking economic ship while leaving the door wide open for other countries (such as China, India, Japan, or European nations) to take the lead on clean energy. Because, to be clear, coal’s fortunes are plummeting even as renewable energy’s become rosier and rosier. And this is a systemic issue that Trump has little power to change.

It’s worth noting that a substantial coalition of cities and states within the U.S. are pledging to go ahead with Paris implementation despite Trump’s failure. For according to recent news reports, governors from California, Washington, Oregon, Hawaii, Colorado, New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut and Rhode Island have joined to continue working toward the targets of the global climate accord. Meanwhile the European Union is seeking ways to work with both these governors and with major businesses such as 3M, Bank of America, Campbell Soup, Cargill, Citigroup, Coca-Cola, Corning, Dow Chemical, DuPont, General Electric, Goldman Sachs, Johnson & Johnson, JP Morgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, Pacific Gas and Electric, Procter & Gamble, Tesla, Virgin Group and the Walt Disney Company, to assist the U.S. in hitting its emissions targets, even without Trump-based federal support.

This coalition of the hopeful and willing is further joined by 211 U.S. cities which alone represent 54 million American citizens. Meanwhile Trump’s approval rating at home has plummeted due to his withdrawal from the agreement even as recent polling data shows that nearly 6 out of 10 Americans support the Paris Climate Agreement and oppose scrapping it. In the end, when it comes to Paris and climate change it appears that it’s Trump against both the larger U.S. and the rest of the world.

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