On Thursday, President Trump announced that the U.S. will withdraw from the Paris agreement on climate change. You may have already heard about it. But that coverage may not have answered a couple key questions: what does the agreement do? Why is it important? And why did Trump decide to leave it?
The accord—once called the first universal climate deal—aims to curb global warming by keeping the global average temperature under 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels. From 2015 to 2017, 195 nations signed the agreement as part of an effort "to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change."
Why is it important?
No matter what our global politics look like today or tomorrow, the planet is warming. Studies of peer-reviewed articles on global warming show that 99.99% indicate that global warming is caused primarily by human activity. (Scientists refer to this as anthropogenic climate change.)
Certain market trends, advocacy, and policies in other parts of government continue to combat environmental changes and are largely untouchable by the president. But President Trump's decision on the Paris agreement matters immensely. As climate reporter Brad Plumer put it, "After all, if we want to halt climate change, it’s not enough for US emissions to continue to drop slowly or flatline. They have to drop dramatically. That would’ve been a huge challenge even if Hillary Clinton had been elected president — she was mainly planning to expand some of Obama’s EPA programs at the margins. But it now looks extremely unlikely under Trump."
Should President Trump have withdrawn the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement?
The U.S. should have remained in the Paris agreement for the most significant reasons there are: the wellbeing of our economy, planet, foreign policy, and national morality.
The central goal of Paris agreement simple: keep the global average temperature under 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels. Studies show that transitioning to a low-carbon economy will lead to a net increase in employment. One example: the US solar industry is creating jobs 12 times faster than the overall economy.
Withdrawing from the Paris agreement would damage American diplomacy. Even obstructing American commitments to the deal have had a serious impact on both the deal and the U.S. place as a global leader on the environment, energy, world affairs at large, since the deal is uses transparency as its main enforcement mechanism. (In that spirit, here are all the nations' plans.)
Every justification used by President Trump to withdraw from this agreement is either misleading or a downright lie. Take, for example, his statement on renegotiating the agreement on "terms that are fair to the United States, its businesses," etc. As energy and global affairs expert David Victor put it, "This passage either reveals a complete misunderstanding of the Paris accords or actively misrepresents them. Under the terms of the agreement, each country makes its own voluntary commitment to reducing greenhouse gases and adopting other climate-related policies. By design, each can adjust that commitment as circumstances, technology, and politics change." In other words, the U.S. can ament its own pledge—which means renegotiation is a completely irrelevant idea. This speech was crafted by a full White House team. They knew this was a lie.
By withdrawing from the Paris agreement, the U.S. is harming economies, habitats, and lives around the world—and its own. And it's all for reasons based solely on lies.
By withdrawing from the Paris agreement, President Trump has maintained one of his biggest and most specific campaign promises. If he hadn't, he would have rejected those who elected him—all for an agreement that was never approved by Congress, may not be the best way to combat climate change, and may impede American employment in the short term.
During his campaign, Trump repeatedly promised, “we’re going to cancel the Paris Climate Agreement and stop all payments of U.S. tax dollars to U.N. global warming programs.” When announcing his decision in the Rose Garden on Thursday, he emphasized the role that his supporters played: "I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris."
This agreement never received the two-thirds Senate vote required for treaties. Instead, the Obama administration used an "executive agreement." First, an agreement of this magnitude should have been approved by the Senate. Second, President Trump is well within his power to withdraw. Why should he be bound to what he views as a mistake by his predecessor?
The deal is also self-determined: The Trump administration could simply submit a less ambitious target and face no sanctions. But in that case, why lose voters and refuse to do what they expected of President Trump?
President Trump had to fulfill his promises to his supporters. And he continues to be interested in another agreement. In his words, "in order to fulfill my solemn duty to protect America and its citizens, the United States will withdraw from the Paris climate accord... but begin negotiations to reenter either the Paris accord or a really entirely new transaction on terms that are fair to the United States, its businesses, its workers, its people, its taxpayers. So we’re getting out. But we will start to negotiate, and we will see if we can make a deal that’s fair. And if we can, that’s great. And if we can’t, that’s fine."
- President Trump's speech on withdrawing from the Paris agreement
- "As President, I can put no other consideration before the wellbeing of American citizens. The Paris Climate Accord is simply the latest example of Washington entering into an agreement that disadvantages the United States to the exclusive benefit of other countries, leaving American workers—who I love—and taxpayers to absorb the cost in terms of lost jobs, lower wages, shuttered factories, and vastly diminished economic production."
- Trump's speech annotated by climate expert David Victor
- "President Trump's speech Thursday, announcing that the US will pull out of the Paris agreement on climate change, is filled with factual errors and logical howlers. It's not often that someone who commands such vast resources for checking content commits so many misstatements — whether by accident or intent — all toward an end, pulling out of Paris, that will harm US interests. As the annotations below suggest, essentially every substantive paragraph in the president's speech is anchored in sand.
- 187 mayors adopt Paris climate accord after U.S. pulls out
- "We will continue to lead. We are increasing investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency. We will buy and create more demand for electric cars and trucks. We will increase our efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions, create a clean energy economy, and stand for environmental justice. And if the President wants to break the promises made to our allies enshrined in the historic Paris Agreement, we’ll build and strengthen relationships around the world to protect the planet from devastating climate risks."