Trump flips the middle finger to the world, your future


President Trump, in a bid to keep a major campaign promise, announced Thursday that he is moving to withdraw the U.S. from the landmark Paris Agreement on Climate Change while he tries to miraculously strike a better deal. To young people, climate advocates and foreign leaders, this is a terrible nightmare. 

To ordinary citizens generally concerned about climate change, but not convinced of the wisdom of this agreement, it may feel like an epic, bizarre case of political whiplash. 

In Trump’s speech, for example, he failed to accurately describe the agreement’s provisions, railing against the economic penalties it imposes on the U.S. economy, when in fact the entire agreement is voluntary.

This announcement marks a turning point for American leadership in the world as well as for our chances at limiting the severity of global warming before it’s too late. 

As the head of the second-largest emitter in the world and the country most responsible for causing the global warming we’re experiencing today, Trump’s decision to exit the Paris Agreement but move to renegotiate it with better terms for the U.S. amounts to a giant middle finger to the rest of the world. 

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This is particularly the case in developing nations that are feeling climate impacts the most and have the least capacity to withstand heat waves, droughts, and more intense storm systems. 

But there are important caveats to the news. 

First and foremost, this is not the worst-case scenario. The administration had the option of withdrawing from the entire U.N. climate negotiations process by leaving the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), under which the Paris Agreement was negotiated. That would’ve been messy, and extreme, and could’ve been completed in just one year. 

Instead, Trump’s team chose to go through the mechanisms within the agreement itself, which would take until 2020 to complete. In the meantime, Trump said he is seeking to renegotiate this agreement or strike another deal in order to be “more fair” to the U.S. 

This brings me to the second key point.

Elections have consequences, and this isn’t over. The next president can reverse this decision by rejoining the agreement in 2020, but by that point it’s unlikely that the 2025 emissions reduction targets President Obama set could be reached.

Of course, Trump says he may “rejoin” the agreement before then if he gets better terms, but that’s unlikely to happen.

Third, this should be considered to be a political move to throw a bone to the president’s political base at a time when his advisors are still battling for influence. 

On this matter, chief advisor Steve Bannon and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt carried the day after pursuing a carefully crafted lobbying campaign. In doing so, they beat more mainstream advisors who recognize the scientific and international consensus on this issue, such as chief economic advisor Gary Cohn and former Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson. 

Trump had said during the campaign that he would withdraw from the agreement and also played down the dangers of climate change. In fact, he has said global warming is a hoax perpetrated by China to hurt the U.S. economy, making him rather sympathetic to anyone trying trying to argue, incorrectly, that the agreement would be harmful to U.S. interests. 

In reality, the impacts of climate change and costs of delaying action will be far more expensive, both in lives and dollars, than implementing emissions cuts that were completely voluntary. 

Remember, until Trump’s announcement, the Paris Agreement had the support of every country except two — Nicaragua, which thought it wasn’t ambitious enough, and Syria, which is in the midst of a bloody civil war. The U.S. now joins them in opposing the deal. 

In doing so, it is opposing an agreement that is entirely voluntary. It’s important for being ambitious and sending a signal to governments and corporations that the time for action is now, and the transition to a clean energy economy is moving forward rapidly. 

Apparently, Trump would rather send a positive signal to coal country than prepare for the energy jobs of the future.

It’s amazing that the U.S. even seriously considered withdrawing from the agreement considering how little it was requiring of the country, and how much good will it engendered abroad. 

The fact that this was the first climate agreement to achieve near-universal participation was accomplished in large part because diplomats crafted a bottom-up architecture in which each nation made its own voluntary emissions and finance pledges. 

The U.S., for its part, pledged to cut its emissions by 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 and help contribute $100 billion a year to help developing nations withstand climate change impacts by 2020.

Both those goals are now off the table for the U.S., for the time being, all because Trump made a promise to his political base, even though a majority of Republicans support the conclusions of mainstream climate science and support the deal. 

Climate action will continue, it will just disperse to cities, states and towns across America, especially California, and to an emerging alliance between the European Union and China. The U.S. may rejoin this group sooner than you think. 

But the amount of damage done to the climate system by then will be worse than it otherwise would have been.

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