The Impact of the US Withdrawing from the Paris AccordsAntonio Graceffo Foreign Policy Journal 


It appears that a US withdrawal from the Paris accords will have no significant impact on the climate.
On June 1, 2017, press outlets around the world condemned US President Trump for withdrawing the US from the Paris climate accords. Climate change (and the necessity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions) is a sensitive topic, which many regard as having implications for all humanity and for the continued survival of the planet. Understandably, the knee-jerk reactions to President Trump’s decision were often emotionally charged. The American Enterprise Institute reported that critics of the withdrawal were shouting “We are cooking the planet! The future of mankind is at a tipping point! Science!”[1]
When it was announced that the US would withdraw from the Paris accords, leaders from five of the G7 nations—Germany, France, Italy, Canada, and Japan—signed a denouncement of President Trump’s actions. Beijing and Brussels both reaffirmed their desire to lead the world toward clean energy. British Prime Minister Theresa May, however, refused to join in the condemnation, stating that US environmental policy was an internal issue.[2] In the US, business leaders such Elon Musk and Bob Iger of Walt Disney demonstrated their disapproval with the withdrawal by announcing that they would be resigning their White House advisory posts.[3]
But will the US withdrawal from the accords actually have any significant impact on the environment and global efforts to combat climate change?
How the Media Treats the Issue
Given the significance of this topic it would make sense to pause, breathe deeply, clear the mind and take a non-emotional look at the situation. Things may not be as bleak as they seem, and it may well be that a US withdrawal from the accords will have no impact on the environment.
First off, while many are blaming the President for rejecting the agreement in its entirety, the reality is that he has stated that he wants to renegotiate to get a better deal.[4] Additionally, the US withdrawal will not take effect for five more years, during which time the country will undergo another election cycle. It is possible that climate change may be one of the major campaigning points of the 2020 presidential election. In addition, it is entirely possible that Trump may not serve a second term, and a new President could reverse the withdrawal before Trump’s actions even take effect.
Next, it is important to note that President Trump was not the first prominent American to oppose the accords. Before the deal was even signed in 2015, prominent Republicans Marco Rubio, John Kasich, Ted Cruz, and Jeb Bush had already spoken out against it. More recently, twenty-two congressmen signed a letter calling for the US removal from the Accords. A similar letter was signed by 40 think tanks and activist groups, including the Heritage Foundation, Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity, and the longtime climate science–denying Heartland Institute.[5]
In addition, media sources against the Paris Accords include Trump-friendly Fox News and Breitbart and other voices calling for US withdrawal include GOP members, conservatives, members of congress, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, media outlets, conservative donors, fossil fuel lobbies, and others.[6] Even Trump-critics Rich Lowry and David French of the National Review have spoken out against the Paris accords.[7]
Given the highly charged and divisive nature of the debate, some anti-withdrawal news outlets have exaggerated the level of support for remaining in the Accords. One example would be an article appearing on June 1 in the intellectual web journal The Conversation titled “How American farmers will be hurt”. Author Matthew Russell claims that president Trump let down American farmers by pulling out of the Paris Accords. Russell goes on to say that, while the accord would help farmers all over the world, unfortunately, many American farmers “share President Trump’s skepticism about climate change.”[8]
This would suggest that American farmers would not in fact feel let down by the US withdrawal from the accords, which is an apparent contradiction from the title.
Russel then explained that framers could be in the vanguard of research and developing ways of dealing with climate change, but Trump has let them down. Once again, it seems Russel is saying farmers should be doing this or feeling that, but they do not. So the question remains: how exactly did the President let them down?
Further to this, whether or not farmers were in favor or against the accords in no way proves that a US withdrawal from the accords will have a negative impact on the environment.
An unnecessary accord?
To determine what impact a US withdrawal has on the environment, two important questions need to be asked: (1) whether the accords would actually have reduced the emissions of greenhouse gases, and (2), whether the effectiveness of the accord would depend explicitly on US participation.
Those in favor of the US remaining in the Paris accords make their arguments based on the concept of preventing climate change and global warming, as well as the need to protect the environment. While these environmental concerns are extremely significant, they are actually unrelated to the US remaining or withdrawing from a transnational agreement.
It is important to remember that the question on the table is “Should the US have withdrawn from the Paris climate accords?”, not “Is it important to protect the environment?”
It’s also important to note that the US withdrawal from the Accords does not bar US companies from enacting green policies. While a number of top US firms, including General Electric and 3M, and even oil companies ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips and Chevron[9] urged the president not to withdraw, arguing that the US has always been a leader in clean energy development and that the US withdrawal from the Paris accords would undermine that success.[10]
However, if these companies are true to their word, then they would presumably adopt green strategies on their own.
Similarly, as both Disney CEO Bob Iger and Tesla CEO, Elon Musk, quit their posts at the Strategic and Policy Forum, Donald Trump’s presidential advisory board,[11] it is likely that they will drive their own companies to follow the accords. It seems that a US withdrawal from the accords will not prevent American companies from taking steps toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The long term goal of the Paris accords was “to limit global warming to 1.5 to 2.0 degrees Celsius (2.7 to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial temperatures, or about 0.5 to 1.0 degrees C (0.9 to 1.8 degrees F) above the current global average temperature.”[12]
It seems that this goal can be achieved without the Paris accords as current policies in the U.S. are already expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to about 16% below 2005 levels by 2020.
Additionally, even without the US signature on the document, both China and Europe appear ready to lead the world in climate policy.[13]
It appears that both the US and the world will move forward with greener policies without the US participation in the Paris accords.
The Impact of the Paris Accords
According to The Market Mogul, 185 countries had signed the COP21 Paris Agreement, with the goal of keeping the global temperature from rising by more than 2°C at a cost of $1 trillion by 2030, or $100 billion per year from 2015 to 2020.[14]
The American Enterprise Institute takes a particularly harsh stance on the accord, reporting that the terms of the agreement are unenforceable, and even if all of the terms were kept, the global temperature would be reduced by just 0.17 of a degree by 2100.[15]
Additionally, the Chinese commitment is that their greenhouse gas emissions will peak in 2030.[16]
What all of these numbers mean is that the Paris accords, if followed, would actually have a relatively small impact on the climate at a tremendous cost.
However, since the terms of the accords are unenforceable, it is possible that the accords could actually have no impact on global temperatures, while costing billions of dollars.
Relevant to unenforceability, a CNBC report agrees with President Trump, stating that adhering to the accords would put US companies at a distinct disadvantage against companies from companies violating the agreement.[17]
Those in favor of the agreement argue that the US should remain in the accord as a show of goodwill. According to The Conversation, this goodwill includes $1 billion that the US has already paid and $3 billion that the US pledged to the Green Climate Fund.[18]
As for cost, a number of media sources have reported that the US withdrawal from the Paris accords would negatively impact the poor around the world. On closer examination, however, this impact is caused by the US not contributing any more money to the Green Energy Fund, not because of climate change.[19] Remaining in the accords would have necessitated the US paying an additional $100 billion into the Green Climate Fund.[20] Yet, there seems to be no indication that additional payments to the Green Energy Fund would reduce global emissions. Meanwhile, President Trump has said that his withdrawal from the accords was motivated by the fact that the accord would be expensive, ineffective, and would cost American jobs.[21] The World Resources Institute estimates it would cost America $170 billion, or about 0.7% of US GDP.[22] On the world level, the Accords would have cost roughly 1% of global GDP per year.[23]
The US pulling out of the Accords is largely symbolic. Long before the Paris Accords were signed in 2015, the world was already moving toward a lower carbon emissions future. World carbon emissions peaked in 2007 and have been steadily declining since then. In contrast, use of clean energy, such as solar and wind have been on a steady rise.[24]
To assess the impact of a US withdrawal three questions have to be asked: Will this increase US emissions? How will it impact China and EU initiatives to reduce emissions? And inside of the US, how will this pullout effect states like New York, Washington, and California, which were already dedicated to reducing emissions?
When answering the question about the impact of withdrawal on domestic greenhouse gas emissions, it’s important to separate the withdrawal with Trump’s other environmental policies. Even before the pullout, Trump administration had cut funding to EPA, discontinued the Clean Power Plan, greenlighted both the Dakota Access and Keystone pipelines, and allowed extractive operations on public land, all of which would have significant impact on US CO2 emissions regardless of the pullout.
China is already a world leader in several renewable energy areas, including solar and wind.[25] China can lead the world in clean energy, with or without the US in the Paris accords. However, China also faces horrendous domestic air pollution as a result of its dependence on coal for power generation.[26]
China has been the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter since 2006 and coal still provides two thirds of China’s energy. As such, it’s entirely possible that China may continue to pollute its air irrespective of a US withdrawal from the Paris accords. However, in recent years, China seems to have become more aware of and more willing to attempt to remedy its domestic pollution problems. Therefore, China may move forward with green measures and Chinese leaders are closing coal-fired power plants and ramping up the use of renewable energy. China already boasts two-thirds of the world’s solar panel production and Beijing has determined that by 2030 it hopes to obtain at least 20% percent of its energy from clean sources.[27]
At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in January 2017, Chinese President Xi Jinping called the Paris Agreement “a hard-won achievement.” Addressing the United Nations in Geneva later that month, President Xi reassured the world that “China will continue to take steps to tackle climate change and fully honor its obligations.” In contrast to the debate in the US, where liberals and Democrats are generally for the Accords and Republicans are generally against the Accords, all Chinese leaders and citizens will be behind whatever Beijing decides and Beijing has decided to support the Paris Accords.
Once again, any and or all of these actions can and will take place without Donald Trump’s signature on the Paris climate accords.
Within the US, the commitment to a reduction of fossil fuel use is also occurring independent of an international accord, and much of the legislation regarding clean energy has been passed at the local and state levels. Regardless of legislation, the natural trend in the US has been toward a reduction in the use of fossil fuels. Simple economic factors have caused a decline in the use of coal. In 2016, Americans used the least coal and the most natural gas in history.[28]
Furthermore, due to the economic benefits of wind energy even some Republicans governors, such as Kansas’s Sam Brownback or Ohio’s John Kasich are ardent supporters. Wyoming, the largest coal producing state, is now moving toward wind energy as a way of replacing the income lost as a result of a declining coal industry. Kansas now ranks 6th in wind turbine electricity production and requires utility providers to generate at least 15% of their power from wind. Across the US, 30 other states have similar rules. According to Gabe Elsner, executive director of the Energy and Policy Institute, a clean-energy think tank, clean energy is now gaining political power.[29]
At the national level, US environmental groups will continue to push the government to tighten emissions laws.[30] State governors are divided in their support of climate initiatives, but this exists independent of the Paris Accords. Think Progress rated state governors as “green” if they not only believed in climate change, but were actively fighting against it. The following governors are rated as green: Governor Jerry Brown (D) California, Governor Dan Malloy (D) Connecticut, Governor Jack Markell (D) Delaware, Governor Neil Abercrombie (D) Hawaii, Governor Martin O’Malley (D) Maryland, Governor Deval Patrick (D) Massachusettes, Governor Mark Dayton (D) Minesota, Governor Maggie Hassan (D) New Hampshire, Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) New York, Governor John Kitzhaber (D Oregon, Governor Lincoln Chafee (D) Rhode Island, Governor Peter Shumlin (D) Vermont, and Governor Jay Inslee (D) Washington.[31]
Such a large and influential list of ‘green governors’ indicates that there is an appetite for a reduction of carbon emissions independently of the Accords.
Many US companies have found that ‘going green’ can reap financial rewards. For example, according to CNBC, a company that installs solar panels could reduce its tax bill by as much as half.[32] A Cox Conserves Sustainability Survey of small & medium-sized businesses (SMBs), found that 65% of SMB are moving toward eco-friendly activities, citing improvements in the company’s profits as a driving force.[33]
In addition to cost savings, some US companies may continue to comply with the Paris Accords because they are transnational companies which have to meet the regulatory requirements in foreign countries.
Regardless of their motivation, some of America’s largest corporations have now gone green. Business Pundit has identified the following companies as green: Bank of America, Ceres, General Electric,Dupont, Innovest, McDonalds, Home Depot, Anheuser-Busch, Pratt & Whitney, Starbucks, Wal-Mart, Tesla Motors, Coca-Cola, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Toyota, Dell, Target, Brooks, Honda, Continental Airlines, Tesco, S.C. Johnson, Goldman Sachs, Hewlett-Packard, and TJX Companies.[34]
Conclusion
Given President Trump’s well-known skepticism towards the environment, it should have come as no surprise to anyone when he announced that he would withdraw the US from the Paris Climate Accords. That being said, the president is not alone in his opposition to the Accords. Numerous members of the US Congress and the heads of some of the largest corporations share the president’s desire to abandon the Accords.
In part, Trump’s logic for removing the US from the accords was that the Accords would not offer value for money to US taxpayers, who would ultimately have to give billions of dollars in US contributions to the green energy fund, without any effective means of enforcing any other country’s compliance with the Accords. US business leaders argue that compliance with the accords would be costly for US corporations, damaging their ability to compete with corporations from countries where the Accords were not strictly enforced or followed.
In rendering a judgement in the case of should the US have withdrawn from the accords or not, it is important to ask whether a US signature on this document would somehow reduce greenhouse gases worldwide. There seems to be no evidence suggesting that one signature more or less would have any direct impact on the environment.
Meanwhile, irrespective of a US signature on this agreement, no less than 30 US states and some of America’s top corporations have voluntarily agreed to adopt greener standards, and China and Europe have reiterated their commitment to the Accords.
Therefore, it appears that a US withdrawal from the Paris accords will have no significant impact on the climate.
References
[1]Benjamin Zycher, Leaving Paris: One and a Half Cheers for President Trump, The American Enterprise Institute, June 2, 2017, http://www.aei.org/publication/leaving-paris-one-and-a-half-cheers-for-president-trump/
[2] Arthur Beesley and Jim Pickard, G7 allies lead anger at Trump’s exit from Paris climate agreement, June 2, 2017, https://www.ft.com/content/eb1b25d6-4768-11e7-8519-9f94ee97d996?mhq5j=e3
[3] Jacqueline Thomsen, Disney CEO: I’m quitting advisory council over Paris deal, June 01, 2017, http://thehill.com/business-a-lobbying/business-a-lobbying/336020-disney-ceo-im-quitting-advisory-council-over-paris
[4]Benjamin Zycher, Leaving Paris: One and a Half Cheers for President Trump, The American Enterprise Institute, June 2, 2017, http://www.aei.org/publication/leaving-paris-one-and-a-half-cheers-for-president-trump/
[5] Andrew Prokopandrew, Don’t just blame Trump for quitting the Paris deal — blame the Republican Party Trump is solidly within the GOP’s consensus on climate change, Vox, June 1, 2017, https://www.vox.com/2017/6/1/15726726/trump-paris-climate-agreement-republicans
[6] Andrew Prokopandrew, Don’t just blame Trump for quitting the Paris deal — blame the Republican Party Trump is solidly within the GOP’s consensus on climate change, Vox, June 1, 2017, https://www.vox.com/2017/6/1/15726726/trump-paris-climate-agreement-republicans
[7] Andrew Prokopandrew, Don’t just blame Trump for quitting the Paris deal — blame the Republican Party Trump is solidly within the GOP’s consensus on climate change, Vox, June 1, 2017, https://www.vox.com/2017/6/1/15726726/trump-paris-climate-agreement-republicans
[8]Matthew Russell, How American farmers will be hurt, The Conversation, June 1, 2017, http://theconversation.com/why-trumps-decision-to-leave-paris-accord-hurts-the-us-and-the-world-78707
[9]The Market Mogul, Why The “Trump Trade”Doesn’t Exist, Debunking the Growing Myth,June 12, 2017, http://themarketmogul.com/the-trump-trade/?hvid=2uocXu
[10]Marina v. N. Whitman ,Paris withdrawal puts American businesses last, The Conversation, June 1, 2017, http://theconversation.com/why-trumps-decision-to-leave-paris-accord-hurts-the-us-and-the-world-78707
[11]Julia Horowitz, Elon Musk to Trump: You quit Paris, so I quit you, CNN Money, June 2, 2017, http://money.cnn.com/2017/06/01/news/elon-musk-resigns-trump-adviser/index.html.
[12]Robert Kopp, How bad could Trump’s Paris Agreement withdrawal be? A scientist’s perspective, The Conversation, June 1, 2017, http://theconversation.com/how-bad-could-trumps-paris-agreement-withdrawal-be-a-scientists-perspective-78721
[13]Robert Kopp, How bad could Trump’s Paris Agreement withdrawal be? A scientist’s perspective, The Conversation, June 1, 2017, http://theconversation.com/how-bad-could-trumps-paris-agreement-withdrawal-be-a-scientists-perspective-78721
[14]Francesco Tassello, Green Investing: The Financial Sector And The New Climate Economy Investing in the Future, The Market Mogul, May 30, 2017, http://themarketmogul.com/green-investing-financial-sector/
[15]Benjamin Zycher, Leaving Paris: One and a Half Cheers for President Trump, The American Enterprise Institute, June 2, 2017, http://www.aei.org/publication/leaving-paris-one-and-a-half-cheers-for-president-trump/
[16]Benjamin Zycher, Leaving Paris: One and a Half Cheers for President Trump, The American Enterprise Institute, June 2, 2017, http://www.aei.org/publication/leaving-paris-one-and-a-half-cheers-for-president-trump/
[17]Jake Novak, Trump’s Paris accord exit will save the environmental movement from itself, May 31, 2017, http://www.cnbc.com/2017/05/31/trump-paris-accord-exit-is-good-for-the-environment-commentary.html
[18]Kevin Trenberth, Why Trump’s decision to leave Paris accord hurts the US and the world, The Conversation, June 1, 2017, http://theconversation.com/why-trumps-decision-to-leave-paris-accord-hurts-the-us-and-the-world-78707
[19]Anthony Janetos, Pulling out of Paris will harm the poor in the US and abroad, The Conversation, June 1, 2017, http://theconversation.com/why-trumps-decision-to-leave-paris-accord-hurts-the-us-and-the-world-78707
[20]Benjamin Zycher, Leaving Paris: One and a Half Cheers for President Trump, The American Enterprise Institute, June 2, 2017, http://www.aei.org/publication/leaving-paris-one-and-a-half-cheers-for-president-trump/
[21]Rob Crilly, Donald Trump pulls US out of Paris climate accord to ‘put American workers first’, June2, 2017, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/06/01/trump-pull-paris-accord-seek-better-deal/
[22]Michael Krancer, The Best Energy Companies Didn’t Care Either Way About The Paris Accord, Forbes, June 1, 2017, https://www.forbes.com/sites/michaelkrancer/2017/06/01/the-best-energy-companies-didnt-care-either-way-about-the-paris-accord/#1aabfadf16f0
[23]Benjamin Zycher, Leaving Paris: One and a Half Cheers for President Trump, The American Enterprise Institute, June 2, 2017, http://www.aei.org/publication/leaving-paris-one-and-a-half-cheers-for-president-trump/
[24]Robert Kopp, How bad could Trump’s Paris Agreement withdrawal be? A scientist’s perspective, The Conversation, June 1, 2017, http://theconversation.com/how-bad-could-trumps-paris-agreement-withdrawal-be-a-scientists-perspective-78721
[25] Keith Bradsher, China Looks to Capitalize on Clean Energy as U.S. Retreats, 击查看本文中文版, June 5, 2017, http://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/05/business/energy-environment/china-clean-energy-coal-pollution.html?_r=0
[26] Keith Bradsher, China Looks to Capitalize on Clean Energy as U.S. Retreats, 点击查看本文中文版, June 5, 2017, http://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/05/business/energy-environment/china-clean-energy-coal-pollution.html?_r=0
[27]Wanyun Shao, Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris accord cedes global leadership to China, The Conversation, June 1, 2017, http://theconversation.com/trumps-decision-to-withdraw-from-the-paris-accord-cedes-global-leadership-to-china-76279
[28] Bobby Magill, Americans Used a Lot Less Coal in 2016, Scientific American, April 8, 2016, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/americans-used-a-lot-less-coal-in-2016/
[29]Steven Mufson and Tom Hamburger, A battle is looming over renewable energy, and fossil fuel interests are losin, Washington Post, April 28, 2014,http://www.governorswindenergycoalition.org/?p=8720
[30]NivesDolsak and Aseem Prakash, Are we overreacting to US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on climate? The Conversation, June 1, 2017, http://theconversation.com/are-we-overreacting-to-us-withdrawal-from-the-paris-agreement-on-climate-78741
[31]Ryan Koronowski, The Climate Guide To Governors, ThinkProgress, July 1, 2014, https://thinkprogress.org/the-climate-guide-to-governors-a822a998a94a
[32]John Weiss and Susie Poppick, 7 Ways Going Green Could Save you Lots of Money, CNBC, April 20, 2016, http://www.cnbc.com/2016/04/18/run-a-green-business-make-money.html?slide=1
[33]Kabbage, 4 Companies Who Saved Money and Made Money by Going Green, Kabbage, April 20, 2015, https://www.kabbage.com/blog/how-to-save-money-and-make-money-by-going-green/
[34]Business Pundit, 25 Big Companies That Are Going Green, Business Pundit, July 29, 2008, http://www.businesspundit.com/25-big-companies-that-are-going-green/

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One Reply to “The Impact of the US Withdrawing from the Paris AccordsAntonio Graceffo Foreign Policy Journal ”

  1. The real effect of Trump is prosecutorial discretion in not enforcing current rules like Obama did on immigration. Also the EPA which is being destroyed from within and their current efforts to ruin in current regulations upon which any litigation rests. This two prong approach makes the Trump action in pulling out of Paris Accord of consequence. Thanks for engaging, hopefully the debate will continue.

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