Paris Agreement: Why Member States are stronger without Donald Trump’s meddling

The impact of the US' announced withdrawal from the Paris Agreement has been played down by climate experts, in the same week that a group of green organisations called on the next UK Prime Minister to defend the historic climate change deal.

The positive reaction from US states, businesses and the international community in the past week has softened the blow of Trump’s announcement, a high-level panel has concluded.

Among the speakers at the Castle Debates event in London on Tuesday (6 June) was Committee on Climate Change (CCC) chief economist Andrew Gault, who expressed his personal view that Member States could now focus on making necessary emissions reductions without interference from the Trump administration.

“If he’s out then he’s not in the system making things worse,” said Gault, who reiterated at the event that he was giving his own personal views rather than those of the CCC, which has been bound by purdah during the pre-election period.

“We may have to wait a few years for the US to reengage at that level, but this is not necessarily the worse outcome that it could have been.”

US cities and states have been quick to redouble climate ambitions. An open letter from 82 mayors representing 39 million Americans has promised to “adopt, honour, and uphold the commitments to the goals enshrined in the Paris Agreement”. The international community has stepped up its efforts, too, with French President Emmanuel Macron leading the response from other nations. 

The global reaction to Trump’s “ill-informed” decision will prove vital in determining the outcome of US withdrawal, Gault added. “If the US is setting a bad example that others follow, then it gets worse. But the response so far has been fairly positive in terms of others restating their commitment.

“Then there’s a dependency on what happens at the US state and city level, and again you can see a strong response from a large proportion of states and cities in terms of the responsibility that they have proportionally for emissions in the US. It’s not necessarily as bad as it might be if you get that strong response and redoubling of efforts from others.”

Challenging times

The Castle Debates panel reserved praise for the business community, both in its lobbying role at the initial Paris talks in December 2015, and for subsequent efforts to emulate low-carbon pledges. Earlier this this week, for instance, more than 900 companies, including Nike, Tesla, Google and Microsoft vowed to achieve and exceed the original commitment.

Also present on the panel was PwC climate change director Jonathan Grant, who welcomed the widespread business support. Grant admitted that net zero-emission targets would become tougher without US leadership, but questioned the impact of Trump’s decision on global climate action. He referred to PwC research, which estimates the US emissions reduction rate would only drop from 3% to 2.8% if the country reverted to a business-as-usual approach.

“In terms of the impact, I’m not sure that the quantitative impact on emissions in the US will be significant,” Grant said. “But I think the maths is probably less important than the politics. As we saw when the US withdrew from Kyoto, it does set back momentum in the international negotiations. And what the Paris Accord is, is an agreement to continually review and renegotiate targets.

“So the challenge will not be what happens in the next few years but what happens as countries start to consider how they progress onto zero-emissions in the second half of the century, how they raise ambition. Some of the pledges aren’t ambitious enough at the moment. That will be challenging without US leadership at the table.”

‘Need UK to step up’

Pressure has grown on the UK to strengthen its own support for the Paris Agreement, after a group of NGOs including WWF, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth (FoE) wrote to party leaders to express concern about Britain’s response to the US withdrawal. The letter urges the next PM to sign up to the statement from the High Ambition Coalition group of nations reinforcing their ‘unshakable’ commitment to the agreement.

So far, France, Germany and Italy have pledged that they will reject any attempt to derail global efforts, but the UK has yet to commit to this latest defence of international climate action.

The NGO letter also calls on the next PM to use next month’s G20 meeting to make it clear that the Paris Agreement cannot be renegotiated and that all major polluters should play their part in reducing the risks from climate change. “These steps are necessary to demonstrate that the UK remains a responsible global player with an independent voice on the world stage,” the letter stated.

“We’re seeing the impacts of climate change now – here and around the world,” said WWF head of climate and energy policy Gareth Redmond-King. “So, we need the UK to step up and lead the way on tackling climate change. From extreme weather in the UK, through loss of coral and other species, to unprecedented loss of Arctic sea ice; the US pulling out of Paris makes it harder for the world to pull together and tackle these problems, whilst there’s still time.

“This is why we are calling on the next Government of the UK to step confidently back onto the world stage and stand with our global partners to forge ahead and press on with full implementation’ of the historic accord signed in Paris. This must start at the G20 in July. It is what the public wants, it makes economic sense for the UK and it is what the world needs in order to safeguard the lives of future generations.”

George Ogleby

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