Trump Withdraws from the Climate Change Agreement, but the Rest of the World Is Still In

The Cooperative Society Newsletter
July 2017, Issue 4
by E.G. Nadeau

I felt physically ill when Trump announced the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. By doing so, he demonstrated his abysmal ignorance of, or worse, indifference to, the devastating, long-term consequences to the planet from continued global warming. He also gave the finger to the world community and to future generations in the name of a futile, economically irrational effort to support the US coal and oil industries.

But then, the rest of the world and many American states, cities, businesses, and other institutions announced that “they were still in,” and in a number of cases that they would redouble their efforts to achieve the 2030 climate-change goals. Many signs point to their ability to pull it off.

One of seven measures
Those of you who have read The Cooperative Society know that climate change is a key measure in the book, indicating whether or not we are moving toward greater worldwide cooperation. (Those of you who have not read the book can download it from our website http://www.thecooperativesociety.org , or purchase it from your local bookstore or from Amazon.)

In the book, my son Luc and I summarized scientific findings that show unequivocally that the surface temperature of the earth has continued to increase thus far in the 21st century – and at a faster pace than it had during the late 20th century. Thus, we rated climate change as a negative in terms of its impact on moving toward a more cooperative society. At the same time, we were encouraged by the passage of the Paris Agreement in 2015 because it signaled a concerted worldwide effort to stabilize the earth’s surface temperature by 2030, thus reducing catastrophic weather-related events in the remainder of the 21st century.

Pulling out and staying in
On June 1, 2017, in a major setback to this landmark agreement, the president of the second-largest carbon-emitting country in the world – guess who – announced that he was pulling out of the accord signed by his predecessor and the leaders of 194 other countries.[1]

Just four days later, however, hundreds of U.S. governors, mayors, university presidents, business and nonprofit leaders, and others signed a statement pledging that “they are still in,” and that they would achieve and eventually exceed America’s commitment to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.[2]

In addition, world leaders provided assurances that they were still in too, and that, even without the participation of the federal government of the United States, they would achieve the objectives of the Paris Agreement. On July 8, all of the members of the G20, except the United States, reiterated their “strong commitment to the Paris Agreement, moving swiftly toward its full implementation . . . .”[3] The G20 represents the largest developed and developing economies in the world.

The key question is: Can subnational and private entities in the United States, and national leaders from all over the planet, achieve the reductions in carbon emissions necessary to stabilize the world’s temperature without the support of the Trump administration?

Factors affecting carbon emissions
It’s too early to tell for sure because there are many factors that will affect carbon emissions and the world temperature over the next several decades. Following are some key issues to take into account:

  1. The biggest negative in the U.S. is the dismantling of regulations related to emissions by coal-fired plants. Since coal is by far the biggest greenhouse gas emitter of all fossil fuels, the laissez-faire approach taken by the current administration will mean continued massive carbon and other toxic emissions by the coal sector for as long as it is permitted to pollute at will.[4] 
  2. On the other hand, just in economic terms alone, coal is not competitive with natural gas (a fossil fuel that emits only about half the amount of carbon as coal), wind, and solar.[5] So, even with Trump’s embrace of the coal industry, there will not be a resurgence of coal mines, coal-fired plants, and the jobs that go with them during the next few years. Trump has given them a reprieve, but not the makings of a resurgence.
  3. Speaking of coal, the three other top carbon polluters in the world – China, India, and the European Union – are all moving away from this dirtiest of energy sources at a pace that would have been unthinkable only a few years ago.[6] 
  4. In the last couple of years, the fastest-growing sources of electrical energy in the United States, China, India, and the European Union have been wind and solar, both because of their lack of carbon emissions and also because their costs have gone down rapidly.[7] This bodes well for a transition to a zero-carbon economy by 2050.
  5. We also have to keep in mind, however, that electrical energy is only one of the “big three” kinds of energy use and abuse. The other two are transportation and energy inefficiency in the heating and cooling of buildings. Increased fuel efficiency for vehicles, a rapid transition to electric vehicles, and increased energy efficiency in buildings are all part of the equation to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.
  6. A note of caution: Even though 194 countries have made commitments under the Paris Agreement, the cumulative projected result of these national decarbonization goals falls short of stabilizing the world’s temperature by 2030. There will need to be revised commitments in order to achieve temperature stabilization or reduction by 2030.[8] 
  7. Another note of caution: Christiana Figueres, former executive director of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, co-authored an article in the June 28 issue of Nature entitled “Three Years to Safeguard Our Climate.” The article provides a dire warning about the consequences if we as a planetary community fail to ratchet up our commitment to decarbonization by 2020.[9]

In summary, the bad news is the abdication of responsibility by the Trump administration to participate in a worldwide agreement to reduce carbon emissions and global warming.

The good news is that many U.S. states, cities, businesses, and others have affirmed their commitments to this agreement despite the lack of national leadership. More good news is that the other nations of the world have also announced their continued participation.

The uncertain news is whether, despite this overwhelming commitment, we will be able to act fast enough to head off serious damage to our planet and our species.

 

[1] Shear, Michael D., June 1, 2017 “Trump Will Withdraw U.S. From Paris Climate Agreement,” https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/01/climate/trump-paris-climate-agreement.html?mcubz=1

[2] www.wearestillin.com

[3] “G20 Leaders ́ Declaration Shaping an Interconnected World,” Hamburg, July 7-8, 2017 https://www.g20.org/gipfeldokumente/G20-leaders-declaration.pdf

[4] Dennis Brady and Juliet Eilperin, March 28, 2017, “Trump signs order at the EPA to dismantle environmental protections,”
https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/trump-signs-order-at-the-epa-to-dismantle-environmental-protections/2017/03/28/3ec30240-13e2-11e7-ada0-1489b735b3a3_story.html?utm_term=.21c5f19040f3

[5] Vaughan, Adam, March 22, 2017, “Coal in ‘freefall’ as new power plants dive by two-thirds,”
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/mar/22/coal-power-plants-green-energy-china-india

[6] Ryan, Joe, Chris Martin and Jim Polson, “Economics to Keep Wind and Solar Energy Thriving With Trump,” November 23, 2016,
https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-11-23/economics-will-keep-wind-and-solar-energy-thriving-under-trump

[7] Cleetus, Rachel, May 26, 2017, “Renewable Energy Surges Globally with China and India in the Lead” http://blog.ucsusa.org/rachel-cleetus/renewable-energy-china-india

[8] http://climateactiontracker.org/countries.html

[9] Figueres, Christiana et al, June 28, 2017, “Three years to safeguard our climate,” 28 June 2017, Nature 546, 593–595 https://www.nature.com/news/three-years-to-safeguard-our-climate-1.22201

 

 

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