Donald Trump’s historic mistake
US President Donald Trump has announced that the United States will no longer participate in the 2015 Paris climate agreement, the landmark United Nations treaty that many of us worked so hard to achieve. Trump is making a mistake that will have grave repercussions for his own country, and for the world.
Trump claims that he will try to renegotiate the deal reached in Paris, or craft a new one. But leaders from around the world have already hailed the agreement as a breakthrough for the fight against climate change, a victory for international cooperation, and a boon to the global economy. That remains true today.
Among the many challenges we face today, climate change is unique in its global scale. It affects every element of life on this planet – from ecosystems and food production to cities and industrial supply chains. Viewing climate change as strictly an “environmental” problem misses the point entirely.
We might charitably assume that Trump simply does not understand the implications of his decision. And yet, regardless of what Trump thinks, we know that he is surrounded by advisers who know very well what is at stake.
On the campaign trail, Trump promised to create jobs and protect American workers from the ravages of the world. And he signed off his tweet announcing that he had made a decision on the Paris accord with the words, “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”
I experienced firsthand what American leadership can achieve. It is tragic to watch that force for good be subverted by denial and myopia
But Trump’s decision undermines every one of these goals, and it goes against the wishes of a vast majority of Americans, including many of his own supporters. By turning his back on the Paris agreement, he is increasing Americans’ exposure to the devastating effects of climate change – many of which they are already experiencing. Moreover, he is undercutting jobs in the thriving renewable-energy and electric-vehicle sectors, which are increasingly employing the very workers he purports to represent.
More broadly, Trump has diminished America itself, and abdicated its global leadership role. When I was a member of the French government participating in a global tour to build consensus for climate action – an effort that eventually culminated in the Paris agreement – I experienced firsthand what American leadership can achieve. It is tragic to watch that force for good be subverted by denial and myopia.
By burying their heads in the sand, Trump and his advisers must be hoping that reality will simply go away. They have somehow concluded that America will be spared from the droughts already destroying farms in California’s Central Valley, the rising sea levels already flooding coastal cities, the storms and wildfires routinely ravaging vast swathes of the American countryside, and the water- and food-supply disruptions that threaten us all.
By burying their heads in the sand, Trump and his advisers must be hoping that reality will simply go away
Other parties to the Paris agreement have responded to Trump’s decision with strength, thus proving the resilience of the agreement itself. The rest of the world will be sad to see an America that has been left behind, owing to Trump’s decision. But we will not wait; in fact, we are already moving on.
The world’s response will be clear at the G20 meeting in Germany this July. Already, Europe, China, India, Canada, and Pacific Rim and South American countries have recommitted to the goals of the Paris agreement. These countries understand the dangers of climate change, as do ExxonMobil’s global shareholders, who, just this week, rejected that company’s attempts to ignore the impact of climate change on its business.
By placing America in the company of the only two countries that have not joined the Paris agreement – Syria and Nicaragua – Trump’s decision is completely at odds with the current global atmosphere of cooperation. The world’s major economies are reaching new agreements every day to collaborate on research and development, infrastructure investment, and industrial strategy. They are working together to achieve a low-carbon economy, and to make 2020 the year that global greenhouse-gas emissions will have peaked.
European leaders are already meeting with their Indian and Chinese counterparts to find areas where they can cooperate on developing clean energy and green infrastructure. Massive investments will be made in these areas, and the European Central Bank, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and many other institutions are devising mechanisms to finance them. Likewise, sovereign wealth funds with immense clout in the global financial system are redirecting their investments toward the green economy.
Even the most optimistic among us did not predict that the old fossil-fuel paradigm would change so quickly. But Europe is phasing out coal-fueled energy production. And India, China, and South Korea are rapidly shifting their investments away from coal, and toward renewable-energy sources.
Worldwide, the competition is about “who can go green the fastest.” New industries are springing up, at scale, in areas ranging from electrification and smart-grid design to electric vehicles, green construction and recycling technologies, and organic chemicals. The renewable-energy revolution, now spreading at an unprecedented rate, is already transforming entire sectors, not least transportation. In all of these sectors around the world, the excitement and growth potential is palpable.
It is a shame that Trump has decided to shirk America’s global responsibility and turn his back on these developments. His decision is a blow to so many people – including a great many Americans – who have worked hard to be a successful part of the new economy.
Still, Trump cannot take all of America with him. State- and city-level climate action is sweeping across the US, increasing in scale and ambition. Trump’s historic mistake represents an obstacle to that collective action; but it can hardly stop it. Just as Chinese companies are now training US coal workers to build wind farms, the rest of the world will continue to work together, and build the markets and workforce of the future.