What is the Paris Climate Agreement?
The Paris Climate Agreement is an agreement within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) dealing with greenhouse gas emissions mitigation, adaptation, and finance starting in the year 2020. The language of the agreement was negotiated by representatives of 196 parties at the 21st Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC in Paris and adopted by consensus on December 12th, 2015. As of June of 2017, 195 UNFCCC members have signed the agreement, 148 of which have ratified it. In the Paris Climate Agreement, each country determines, plans, and regularly reports its own contributions it feels it should make in order to mitigate global warming. There is no mechanism to force a country to set a specific target by a specific date, but each target should go beyond previously set targets. Essentially, a country does not have to set, meet, or enforce any given goals if they do not so choose to do so. There is, of course, the global stigma that comes with not participating that may damage a nation’s reputation at the international level.
Donald Trump and the Withdraw
On June 1st, 2017, the President of the United States Donald Trump announced that the U.S. would cease all participation in the Paris Climate Agreement on climate change mitigation. While he stated that he was open to negotiating for a better deal, the truthfulness of his statement was disputed. During the presidential campaign, Trump had pledged to withdraw from the pact, saying a withdrawal would help American businesses and workers, especially those in the fossil fuel industry. Trump stated that the withdrawal would be in accordance with his America First policy. He, essentially, made it clear from the beginning that it was his intent to line the pockets of the carbon industry by withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement.
Is Donald Trump Corrupt or Simply Ignorant?
For a politician to so openly admit his intention to pull out of an international agreement that most people support because it will benefit industries that most people don’t support stinks of the 19th century robber barons that built the American Industrial Revolution on the backs of foreign immigrants. However, consider just for a moment that Donald Trump may actually just be that ignorant. If he is that ignorant, he is ignoring half a century of scientific research on the buildup of emissions of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels that has led to buildups of carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere, preventing heat from escaping into space. The process of warming is a slow one, but we can expect those atmospheric gases to lead to increased global temperatures (for which there is already evidence), rising sea levels as polar ice melts and water expands as it warms, increased ocean acidification as the ocean absorbs carbon dioxide, more extreme precipitation events including flooding and more severe droughts. He also demonstrates his ignorance by making a big ado about pulling out of an agreement that was voluntary to begin with.
If he is truly ignorant, then he is overlooking threats to his own valuable properties in coastal regions around the country. Take his resort at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, for example. This is one of the places in the United States at the forefront of the threat of rising sea levels. By 2100, Mar-a-Lago could be mostly underwater. Further, Trump purports to be the savvy business man, but he cannot read into market shifts that indicate that more and more people are supporting the global movement to embrace renewable energy every day. In one peculiar case, it is interesting to note that the American fast food chain Arby’s employs more people than the entire American coal industry. Furthermore, Trump does not appear to realize that collectively, wind energy, solar power, geothermal energy and many other forms of renewable will soon produce so much energy that oil, natural gas, and coal power will no longer be necessary in the United States. He also does not seemingly understand that the transition in available jobs is not a deficit. There are actually more jobs available in the new power industries. All that is required is new job training programs to make the transitions move smoothly. The transition to renewable energy is also improving people’s health as carbon emissions continue to drop, which he seems oblivious to.
In My Opinion He is Both Corrupt and Ignorant
There is no question in my mind that Donald Trump is corrupt, especially considering who he nominated for Secretary of State as his presidency got under way. Big Oil had quite a day in Washington on February 1st 2017. Rex Tillerson, the former ExxonMobil CEO, was sworn in as the new Secretary of State, despite the fact that he had literally no experience in official diplomacy nor foreign policy. The final vote was 56 to 43, with literally every Republican in the Senate supporting the nomination, including those who scoffed initially after Donald Trump announced Tillerson’s nomination last year. Just a few hours before the vote, Politico published an interesting piece about Tillerson personally having lobbied Congress during the Wall Street reform effort, urging lawmakers to reject a provision that required drilling and mining companies to disclose any payments they make to foreign governments; payments meant to secure lucrative oil, natural gas, and coal energy contracts.
On June 1st 2017, when Trump announced the US withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, it can be assumed that he believed he had all of the support he needed to make the move a success. As it turns out, despite his support in the oil, coal, and natural gas industries, he did not. Thus, his ignorance abounds. Here are just a few of the remarks made about his choice of actions:
“Climate change is a serious global threat, and the world will need to radically redesign industrial systems and economies in order to enable a low-carbon growth economy,” said sneaker giant Nike.
“Shell recognizes that climate change is a challenge that belongs to all of society, not one individual or one country,” the energy company said.
“IBM believes that it is easier to lead outcomes by being at the table, as a participant in the agreement, rather than from outside it,” the technology titan said.
Other people took direct action. Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who served on presidential advisory councils, immediately made good on a promise to leave those roles. Separately, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, whose firm has served as a breeding ground for key Trump administration allies like Gary Cohn and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, blasted the president’s move as a setback for climate change efforts.
The Looming Political Threat
President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement caused anger and anxiety across the world, with one major exception – China. With the US stepping away from its role as a leader of the global fight against climate change, Beijing is already moving to fill the void, giving it a chance to benefit both diplomatically and economically. Further, this is not the first time that Trump, who spent the campaign demonizing China, will have wound up giving Beijing a major chance to expand its standing on the world stage. He seems to be bumbling about like a young toddler just learning to walk.
After Trump withdrew the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, China inserted itself into trade talks among other nations disappointed by America’s reversal. As Canada and Mexico have felt spurned by Trump during the run up to renegotiating NAFTA, China has emerged as a more reliable trading prospect. This isn’t happening quietly behind the scenes. At China’s first appearance at the World Economic Forum in Davos, the Chinese President, Xi Jinping, chided the West for its flirtation with protectionism and painted a picture of his country as a paragon of free trade and an inviting place for foreign investment. Trump’s actions are also pressing Europe’s senior leaders to reconsider their positions, something that could prove dire in any number of future economic, military, or diplomatic situations.