President Trump has made his decision on the Paris climate accord. Now the rest of the world will make up its mind on him.
In all likelihood, Trump has decided the United States will leave the international accord on lowering emissions, the crowning environmental achievement of his predecessor’s presidency.
“President Trump is still undecided but leaning toward withdrawing the United States from the landmark Paris climate agreement, White House officials said Wednesday, a move that would honor a campaign vow but risk rupturing global alliances and disappointing both environmentalists and corporate titans,” Philip Rucker, Chris Mooney and Brady Dennis report. “Although officials warned that Trump’s thinking could shift before he announces his decision Thursday, a U.S. exit from the climate pact could have severe ramifications internationally.”
With a tweet, Trump told the world he will announce his decision at 3 p.m. on Thursday, teasing a Rose Garden speech like it’s a season finale of The Apprentice.
I will be announcing my decision on Paris Accord, Thursday at 3:00 P.M. The White House Rose Garden. MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 1, 2017
He similarly signaled the announcement to reporters at the White House on Wednesday, telling them: “You’re going to find out very soon.”
Greenhouse-gas emissions in the United States may rise if the president removes the country from the accord. But it’s not clear that will happen in the rest of world — or the impact any of this will have on U.S. foreign policy goals. It looks like the United States will join a small club of only two other nations, Syria and Nicaragua, in rejecting the Paris plan. The ripples from Trump’s decision to maroon the country on that lonely diplomatic island will take years to spread out.
In the short term, the reaction from over 190 other countries that signed onto the accord may be purely rhetorical, one that both rebukes the U.S. decision and recommits to a Paris agreement now without the world’s second-largest carbon emitter. With or without U.S. participation, the nations that have already put into gear emissions-reduction plans to hit their modest initial targets likely won’t pull back yet.
But the long-term decisions of the Paris accord members may be more dire for the prospects of both maintaining the agreement itself and, in turn, of averting the worst warming projections if U.S. abdication gives other countries pause.
“What’s worrisome in the longer terms is what happens when there’s the next round of negotiation over future commitments,” said David Konisky, a political scientist at Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs
He added: “The U.S. withdrawing gives license to some nations to put the brakes on deeper efforts at decarbonization.”
And of course, in the very-long-term? Much of the carbon dioxide emitted today, left to its own device, will linger and trap heat in earth’s atmosphere for millennia. While the initial targets were not enough to hold global temperatures below two degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, the Paris agreement at least, proponents said, provided the infrastructure to ratchet up to that goal.
How will Trump’s decision affect other countries? Here are some of the waves that could hit the biggest players:
CHINA: Once one of the most difficult nations to bring into the fold, China is positioning itself, if vaguely, to be a leader on climate change. Poor air quality in Beijing and other major Chinese cities makes reducing air pollutants, including greenhouse gases, appealing to many of its own citizens. And China, eager to assert itself as superpower, will seek to fill the vacuum left by United States on solar-panel manufacturing and other fronts.
Already, following the United States forgoing signing onto a G-7 communique calling to “swiftly implement the Paris Agreement,” China this week is set to sign a pledge with the European Union to promote clean-energy investment. “The E.U. and China consider climate action and the clean energy transition an imperative,” the statement read, according to Politico. “Stepping up action will provide both sides with significant opportunities.”
But China is still both the largest supplier and consumer of coal, the most carbon-intensive fossil fuel, and has argued against greater global transparency in disclosing emissions. Without the United States counterbalancing the Chinese on the transparency issue, the world may have a cloudier view on how close nations are to performing under Paris.
EUROPE: When the United States under George W. Bush dropped out of the Kyoto Protocol in 2001, the European Union stayed in, remained serious to the treaty and developed a greenhouse-gas emissions trading scheme. Its citizens, too, are slightly more likely than Americans to perceive climate change as a threat. Miguel Arias Cañete, E.U. commissioner for climate and energy, said in early April that the union “will defend the clean energy transition.”
The French ambassador to the U.S. had a similar message:
The Paris accord is a political agreement. It doesn’t infringe on US sovereignty. National commitments are voluntary and may be amended.
— Gérard Araud (@GerardAraud) May 31, 2017
But with the refugee crisis and imminent departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union, the economic alliance is more fragile than it was 16 years ago. That weakness has emboldened the United Kingdom to lobby to weaken European Union climate targets even as it prepares to exit, according to a report from Greenpeace.
INDIA: If the Paris deal collapses, this could be one of the first big dominoes to fall. Though like China and Europe it had publicly committed to developing clean energy since Trump has taken office, India sits on significant coal reserves and, consequently, was one of the most challenging nations to wrangle into Paris during the Obama administration. India’s commitment to reducing emissions is likely softer than that of China, though both nations face air-quality issues from coal-fired power plants.
The decisions by these countries will determine the longevity of the Paris agreement. But, in a sense, Trump will have already sealed the fate of the United States.
Whether Trump kept the country in the agreement, his campaigns suggest that he doesn’t care a whole lot about climate change. But there are many, many other issues — like fighting terrorism, containing North Korea and winning better trade deals for U.S. companies and workers — that Trump deeply cares about but that require cooperation from abroad. Each of Trump’s foreign-policy goals is made more challenging by his choice to signal to the world that the U.S. may or may not keep its word when it comes to international treaties.
Concern over the diplomatic fallout was enough to put the former chief executive of ExxonMobil — Rex Tillerson, who is now Trump’s secretary of state — in the pro-Paris camp. It was enough to put another man considered for the presidency on that side of the issue, too:
Or as Todd Stern, who was once President Obama’s chief climate negotiator, put it on Wednesday in The Atlantic: “Pulling out of Paris would cause serious diplomatic damage. The countries of the world care about climate change. They see it as a profound threat. They recognize there is no way to meet that global threat without an effective global regime. And they understand that the Paris regime cannot work in the long run if the world’s indispensable power has left the table. The president’s exit from Paris would be read as a kind of ‘drop dead’ to the rest of the world. Bitterness, anger, and disgust would be the wages of this careless act.”
– At the company’s annual shareholder meeting on Wednesday, investors controlling 62.3 percent of ExxonMobil voted to instruct the firm to report on what effect efforts to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions will have on the company’s bottom line.
Context: Last year, a similar proposal garnered only about 38 percent of the vote, illustrating how quickly concern about climate change is taking hold in the investment community in a short period of time, even as Trump was elected president.
Why is it significant? To little avail until this year, investors have used the proxy resolutions to press Exxon to be more forthcoming to shareholders about climate change since the 1990s. Steven Mufson reports that a set of large institutional investors swung the vote: “The shareholder rebellion at the ExxonMobil annual meeting in Dallas was led by major financial advisory firms and fund managers who traditionally have played passive roles. Although the identity of voters wasn’t disclosed, a source familiar with the vote said that major financial advisory firm BlackRock had cast its shares in opposition to Exxon management and that Vanguard and State Street had likely done the same. All three financial giants have been openly considering casting their votes against management on this key proxy resolution.”
What happens next? The resolution is nonbinding, but investors who have pressed this and other shareholder resolutions in the past believe Exxon will work with the sponsors of the resolution to respond to the vote. “There will be some negotiation,” Tim Smith, director of environmental, social and governance at the Boston Trust and Investment Management Company, said. “But I’m confident Exxon will be responsive.”
But if the company does not take “meaningful action” in response, expect investors to refile similar resolutions next year, said Sue Reid, vice president of climate and energy at the sustainable nonprofit Ceres.
“They need to take action now,” Reid said, noting that the deadline to refile resolution this fall is already approaching.
The coincidental timing of the vote wasn’t lost on observers:
President Trump is pulling out of the Paris Agreement the day Exxon shareholders vote on stronger climate change policies. Think about that.
— Alexander Kaufman (@AlexCKaufman) May 31, 2017
– While everyone was obsessing on the Paris news, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke got the ball rolling on opening more of Alaska to oil and gas drilling.
What happened? Zinke issued a secretarial order that addresses two pockets of petroleum in the state. The order reopens the oil and gas leasing plan for the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, or NPR-A, and it also calls for an undated assessment of the amount of oil and gas under both NPR-A and a stretch of coastal plain long contested by both environmentalists and the fossil-fuel industry in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Who supports the move? Alaska’s entire Congressional delegation — GOP Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan and GOP Rep. Don Young — as well as the oil and gas players in Alaska, including Exxon, BP and ConocoPhillips, who long for Alaska’s oil-pumping heydays of the 1980s.
Who opposes it? Environmentalists both in and outside of Alaska who say both areas are ecologically senstive.
“The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is too wild to drill and a unique national treasure,” Nicole Whittington-Evans, regional director of The Wilderness Society in Alaska, wrote in an email. “Similarly, the Special Areas of the National Petroleum Reserve – Alaska contain globally significant wildlife values. We don’t need to risk irreplaceable conservation and subsistence values for oil in the Arctic.”
TWO MORE THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT PARIS:
1) In a Twitter exchange on Wednesday, Elon Musk, founder and chief executive of the electric car manufacturer Tesla, said he would step down from Trump’s business advisory council if Trump elected to exit the Paris agreement:
Don’t know which way Paris will go, but I’ve done all I can to advise directly to POTUS, through others in WH & via councils, that we remain
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 31, 2017
What will you do if he makes the decision to leave?
— Luke Schnoebelen (@schneby) May 31, 2017
Will have no choice but to depart councils in that case
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 31, 2017
Earlier in the president’s term, Musk defended his decision to continue advising Trump by suggesting that, as a moderate, he could counterbalance right-wing voices in Trump’s ear. “How could having only extremists advise him possibly be good?” he said in February. “I’m trying to provide advice that helps take things in a more positive direction,” he added.
The Post’s Brian Fung spells out the blow his departure deals to the White House: “Musk’s resignation in protest would show a loss of faith in Trump by a key business leader, weakening the economic credibility Trump sought for his administration by appointing nearly 20 powerful CEOs to a advisory council in December.”
Previously, Musk’s commitment to remaining on the board earned him scorn from some in the climate community, including Penn State climatologist Michael E. Mann:
Tillerson also said that “the risk of climate change does exist” and he believed “action should be taken”
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 25, 2017
Mann revived that Twitter thread on Wednesday:
Elon: I think we have our answer. Your next steps?
— Michael E. Mann (@MichaelEMann) May 31, 2017
2) It’s often cited that only two other nations, Syria and Nicaragua, do not support the Paris agreement. But their reasons for not joining the accord are much different than that of the United States, The Post’s Adam Taylor reports.
The leaders of Syria were preoccupied with civil war and subject to sanctions during climate negotiations, “making it nearly impossible for them to travel.”
And Nicaragua? It thought the agreement was not strong enough. In fact, the Central American nation has already embraced renewable energy, The Post’s Peter Holley reports.
– U.S. coal stocks dipped after news reports on Wednesday morning that Trump is planning to pull out of Paris. Wait, isn’t that the opposite of what should happen? Coal-fired power plants were, after all, the biggest losers under President Obama’s Clean Power Plan. Well, Reuters reports, the “market reaction reflects concerns, raised by some coal companies in recent months, that a U.S. exit from the Paris Climate Agreement could unleash a global backlash against coal interests outside the United States.”
Meanwhile in Antarctica, as Trump prepares to announce his decision on Paris, scientists report Antarctica could soon break off a Delaware-sized iceberg, mapped below:
Chris Mooney reports on what the loss of this section of the Larsen C ice shelf portends: “The loss of a large iceberg from Larsen C would not raise the sea level, since the ice is already afloat. However, the thinning and loss of ice shelves leads glaciers to flow more rapidly into the sea, and as ice is transferred from atop the land into the water, sea levels will rise somewhat.”
– GOBSMACKED: Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.) believes God will “take care of” us if climate change exists, The Huffington Post’s Igor Bobic reports:
What he said: “ “I believe there’s climate change. I believe there’s been climate change since the beginning of time. I believe there are cycles. Do I think man has some impact? Yeah, of course. Can man change the entire universe? …. Why do I believe that? Well, as a Christian, I believe that there is a creator in God who is much bigger than us. And I’m confident that, if there’s a real problem, he can take care of it.”
- Energy Secretary Rick Perry will begin his trip to Japan and China for meetings with high-level foreign government officials. Perry will travel to Japan from June 2 to 5, making stops in Tokyo, at the Yokota Air Force base and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear site, the Energy Department announced. He will then travel to China from Jun 6 to 8 and will attend the Clean Energy and Mission Innovation Ministerial.
- Pro-Paris agreement activists are planning a rally outside the White House today. The DC-based environmental justice organization hosting the event referred to it as an “emergency” rally to “show solidarity against the withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.”
In case you don’t want to read what I wrote above, here’s a video explainer of the Paris agreement:
The world searches for the meaning of “covfefe:”
And Stephen Colbert looks at Dr. Hannibal Burress delivering a commencement address: