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Paris Climate Change Agreement

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Trump Leaves the Paris Agreement

Yesterday Donald Trump announced that the United States will be pulling out of the Paris Climate Change Agreement. The Paris Agreement, one of the crowning jewels in the Obama administration’s achievements, was signed in 2015. A monumental agreement to undertake a global action plan to mitigate greenhouse gas emission by 2020 within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). They hope to limit global warming to well below 2 °C

Our Policy Officer’s Honor and Georgia discuss what Trump leaving the Paris Agreement will mean. 

Georgia: Should we be surprised?

Honor: No we shouldn’t really be surprised that Donald Trump has pulled out of the Paris Agreement. It was a major campaign promise. I think it was wishful thinking on the part of the left to expect his reasoning to change once he was in office. I think a lot of people put stock in the idea that maybe his daughter, or other advisors, might be able to shift his mind. But it was certainly something he was pretty committed to throughout the election and it is certainly something he can sell as a victory for the Rust Belt, which is pretty important to him since his opinion polls are pretty low at the moment at 40%

Georgia: Carrying on from that, we heard him last night in his speech in the rose garden, he justified his decision partly on the basis that he was “elected by Pittsburgh and not Paris”. To which the Pittsburgh Mayor swiftly responded by reiterating that he and his city will continue under the commitments made in Paris.

Can we expect to see individual US states and cities carrying on regardless?

Honor: I think that this is really interesting, actually, because in recent years US states and cities have been gaining more importance and have been setting policy for themselves. You have seen this on a lot of different liberal issues, including climate change, but also issues like immigration, gun control, obesity and health. You have seen governors like Jerry Brown who has been very vocal about things like climate change and he has committed California itself to cut greenhouse gases by 40% below 1990s levels. That commitment will carry on regardless of whether the US as a nation is in the Paris Agreement. You have to remember that the US is a federal system and so states have a lot of independent control of what they do and how they are governed, and so there are a lot of very progressive climate change propositions in the works. New York, Hawaii and Vermont all have carbon sequestration laws that are pending and that could really help challenge the climate change direction of the US. 

Georgia: This is probably the most significant manifestation of the “America first” policy that we have seen so far; bearing in mind that we are only 6 months in, and like you said it was a major campaign promise.

There seems to be a feeling that this could actually end up backfiring on Donald Trump in terms of America being left out in the cold, in terms of: industry, the economy and employment, would you agree? “In the cold” may be the wrong metaphor when talking about climate change, could they be left out in the warm?

Honor: It really has changed a lot since the 90s. We have seen a lot of the private sector come out and condemn him for this decision. The obvious large businesses like Facebook and Google, that I don’t think anyone was surprised that they would come out and say that this was a bad decision. But you are seeing a lot more of the more conventional, more traditional, more conservative companies similarly coming out and condemning his choice. Disney and Elon Musk have both left the White House Economic Council because of this decision, which they announced yesterday. I think this is because green growth has a lot of potential for the United States and it is something that would benefit the economy across the entire scale of it. When Paris happened they predicted that 2.7 million jobs would come out of the new green economy to meet these commitments. Those were jobs that were low level, installation, factory jobs that would benefit the Rust Belt and those people in West Virginia that can’t find jobs in the coal industry anymore. But also all the way up to Engineers and STEM and PHD students, so it is really a loss that will be felt across the whole economy. The expectation is that even if you weren’t looking at the economic gains of meeting the Paris Agreement, not meeting the climate change commitments and allowing the climate to warm and global temperatures to rise would cost about 150 billion per year, which as an economic downside that is pretty substantial. 

Georgia: Although we can’t draw any conclusions at this very early stage of only 12 hours after the announcement was made, are there any positives that we can end on?

Honor: I think there are some positives. There is increased public attention to this today. Paris was seen as something that happened, it was in the media, it went away. I think Donald Trump’s decision yesterday has put it back in the forefront of everyone’s minds, across the board whether you are: political, apolitical or just apathetic, people are now reminded of the importance of climate change and I think that they are paying attention to the issues.

I think the attention and the recommitment of states is a positive, whether that is a nation state, or a US state and the actions that they can take, independently, will be significant.

Georgia: I am feeling quite optimistic actually. I think I completely agree, these kinds of conversations bring climate change back into the forefront of people’s minds and climate change really should be the umbrella under which all policy making is made. It should be the overarching threat; it should be the Impetus for all of these big policy decisions to be made, at a national and international level. It is something we should all be thinking about. I think that having this massive debate and seeing how quickly and how strongly other world leaders have come out to condemn this decision is important. I think there is a much needed and timely unification of the rest of the world.

Honor: I think that there is a bringing together of the American people as well, given that 70% of Americans support the Paris Climate Change Agreement, so it is reinvigorating the democratic process within the USA, getting people to stand up and raise their voice and say: “I disagree with this Mr President, I think that we should stay in the Paris Climate Change Agreement”, to raise those issues in a public way and keep the public engaged on this important issue and the wider liberal political agenda.

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