Trump's Paris Agreement Withdrawal May Put America Last

Posted on Jun 2, 2017 2:34:22 PM

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President Trump's decision to withdraw the USA from the Paris Climate Change Agreement has provoked a range of reactions all the way from those who think it is a disaster to those who see it as an excellent opportunity.

Arnold Schwarzenegger sums up the opinion of many citizens in a strongly worded video released immediately after Trump's announcement.

With its history of innovation, technical expertise and business acumen as well as vast wealth, the USA was well placed to take a lead in the rapidly expanding cleantech sector and claim a large slice of the estimated US$93 trillion needed to convert the world to a green infrastructure by 2050.

But with one statement Trump is in danger of throwing away this position, with China and the European Union not just ready, but willing and able to pick up the gauntlet and gain a world lead in the sector over the coming years.

While governments around the globe have lined up to express 'disappointment' at Trump's decision, what has been striking is the near universal determination to stick by the Paris Agreement. The big question now is what their reaction will be in practical terms — will the other 194 nations who signed up at Paris increase their targets to make up for the USA, and who will pay the billions to poorer countries previously promised by the USA?

It is too early to say exactly what will happen, but initial reaction has been an expressed determination to work even harder to fight climate change.

France, Germany and Italy issued a joint statement, saying: "We deem the momentum generated in Paris in December 2015 irreversible and we firmly believe that the Paris Agreement cannot be renegotiated, since it is a vital instrument for our planet, societies and economies."

It is an issue that goes beyond climate change to include world influence and geopolitics. As the USA withdraws from the Paris Agreement other countries, notably China, will not be slow to use their position to strengthen their hand in emerging economies such as Asia and Africa. EU nations, including the UK and Spain have a strong hand in Latin America — which should be a natural sphere of influence for the USA — one they will be seeking to strengthen in the coming years.

This could end up costing the USA many billions of dollars as new partnerships are formed both at governmental level and within private business. After all, the Chinese government and European Union are likely to favour their own renewable energy industries when investing, whether at home and abroad.

The EU has already made a play for leadership in the renewable energy sector. The bloc's top climate change official Miguel Arias Canete said it was "a sad day for the global community... (the EU) deeply regrets the unilateral decision by the Trump administration". But he added "the world can continue to count on Europe for global leadership." The EU Commission said it will now seek new alliances in the fight against climate change.

Meanwhile a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said that sticking to the Paris Agreement is a "responsibility shouldered by China as a responsible major country."

He went on to say that China wants to strengthen cooperation with various partners to move the Paris article negotiations forward — which can be taken as a play to improve its own strategic position as the USA withdraws.

What China and the EU recognises is a huge opportunity as the world moves to a sustainable future, while Trump looks back to traditional fossil fuels. His emphasis on coal industry jobs misses the central point that renewables such as solar actually provide more jobs.

This point is one not missed by former President Barak Obama. He said those nations staying in the Paris Agreement will "reap the benefits in jobs and industries created."

It should be pointed out that simply because the Federal government is withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, it does not mean the move to renewables in the USA is going to grind to a halt.

While worst case scenarios put the warming effect of the withdrawal at 0.3C by 2050, this assumes emissions continue as they are. However, simple economics could be the saviour, with solar and wind energy increasingly popular as costs continue to plunge to below those of coal, encouraging a continued shift to cleantech.

Leaders at a state and city level too have vowed to continue their switch to a sustainable future, and with 60% of the population reported to be 'worried' about climate change there is a groundswell of opinion that local politicians are unlikely to ignore. Several states and cities, notably California and New York have explicitly stated they will carry on climate change initiatives regardless of the Federal position.

Big business too is critical of the decision, with Tesla's CEO Elon Musk and Walt Disney Company Chairman and CEO Robert Iger quitting as presidential advisers in protest at the withdrawal.

General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt tweeted his disappointment along with a call to arms, saying: "Disappointed with today’s decision on the Paris Agreement. Climate change is real. Industry must now lead and not depend on government."

Fear that a USA withdrawal from the Paris Agreement would deal a fatal blow to the war on climate change would appear to be unfounded. Yes, it makes the task more difficult, but a broad determination to make sure the world as a whole is not the loser. Ironically for someone who says the decision is all about "putting America first", Trump may have just lost the USA jobs, money and influence.


By Dilip Kuner

Topics: Paris Agreement, Donald Trump, U.S.A.

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