And Then The Laughter Stopped

Ken AshfordEnvironment & Global Warming & Energy, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

Yeah, we all had fun last night….

But then came the sobering news this morning….

President Trump will pull the United States out of the Paris climate change agreement, according to several reports Wednesday.

Axios first reported that Trump is working with a group led by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief Scott Pruitt on the exact mechanism of pulling out before announcing his final decision. CBS News also reported that Trump is telling allies about his decision.

The move marks a dramatic departure from the Obama administration, which was instrumental in crafting the deal. It also makes the U.S. an outlier among the world’s nations, nearly all of whom support the climate change accord.

Outlier indeed.  We now join Nicaragua and Syria (and Nicaragua rejected it because it didn’t go far enough!)

The pact was reached by nearly 200 countries in 2015, the first global climate accord to include that many nations. Each country made its own non-binding pledges to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

The Obama administration, which helped negotiate the pact, had promised a 26 to 28 percent cut in the country’s emissions, a pledge that Republicans had slammed as necessitating expensive, job-killing regulations.

The good news is that technically, the U.S. cannot withdraw from the Paris Agreement for four years.  And it is unclear whether or not the US is withdrawing from the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change which has been around since 1992.  If so, the US can withdraw in a year.

Either way, there are implications.  China will likely take over global leadership on the issue of climate change. This would mean, in part, that China’s faulty and unreliable energy statistics would define whether it was complying with the agreement. The American strategy (up until now) has been to seek outside validation for other countries’ climate goals.

This could prove supremely unpopular: An overwhelming majority of Americans, more than 80 percent, favor expanding wind and solar energy. And it would cut into American competitiveness at a vital time for the industry.  Even Exxon Mobile supports the Paris Accords.

China is investing $360 billion in renewable energy over the next few years, which will create 13 million new jobs. Other countries may decide to penalize the U.S. if it fails on the Paris agreement. “They could do that by lowering tariffs, for example, from other countries that would be trying to sell clean energy technologies,” says Andrew Light, a distinguished senior fellow in the climate program at the World Resources Institute, who was also part of the climate team in the State Department leading up to the agreement.

Beyond the Paris agreement, the government also plays a big role in helping the renewable energy sector succeed in selling to the rest of the world and creating more U.S. jobs, though instruments like the Export-Import Bank and Overseas Private Investment Corporation. Without that investment, “we’re effectively taking ourselves out of the clean energy economy,” Light says.

Before the inauguration, 530 companies and 100 investors wrote an open letter to the new administration asking for support of low-carbon policies, investment in the low-carbon economy, and continued participation in the Paris agreement.

“Failure to build a low-carbon economy puts American prosperity at risk,” they wrote. “But the right action now will create jobs and boost U.S. competitiveness.”

Withdrawing from the Paris agreement also affects the U.S. relationship with other countries. “To create the first climate agreement we were really pushing lots of leaders to really get on board and get this thing done,” says Light. “I think if the U.S. completely pulls away from this, we’re going to see a diplomatic blowback. It’s going to be significant, and it will impact a lot of areas that this administration will care about a lot more than climate change, especially on trade and national security issues.”

In the longer term, failing to reduce emissions now will lead to spending trillions of dollars dealing with the damage caused by climate change. It will also lead to greater security threats as climate impacts create new political instability.

This is a willing abdication of US world leadership.  Not to mention an embarrassment that we have a president who doesn’t believe in science. This is Bannon’s doing, as he is the main one who has been pushing for us to leave. (Ivanka supports the Paris Accords, but clearly has no moderating sway on Trump anymore, if she ever had it at all.)

All hope is not lost: Even if the federal government rejects the Paris agreement, cities, states, and businesses can potentially make enough progress to come close to the Paris target of 26% to 28% reductions. By 2050, the longer-term goal of the U.S. was to reduce emissions 80%, in line with some recommendations to avoid catastrophic climate change.

Expect a lot of blowback from the left and right.

UPDATE: With Elon Musk and others giving pretty strong feedback, it looks like the White House might be giving itself an out.