With the news that the Trump Administration has signaled its intent to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement, I reached out to a number of leading experts on global climate governance and U.S. climate policy for advanced comment. Contributors include Jessica Green, Jennifer Hadden, Thomas Hale, Matthew Hoffmann, Angel Hsu, Joanna Lewis, Johannes Urpelainen, and Stacy VanDeveer.
I asked all of them to reflect on the following three questions. 1) What do you think the the consequences of U.S. withdrawal will be for the agreement? (2) How do you think other actors will respond to U.S. withdrawal in terms of their own commitments and actions? (3) What affect will this move have on U.S. standing in the world?
What follows is my synthetic take on people’s answers, my own editorializing, and then each scholars’ full comments unedited. I also have a piece this afternoon on the decision on The Monkey Cage.
Contributors to the forum are sanguine that the agreement will survive and indeed that withdrawal may in the short-run spur a commitment by leading countries, sub-national governments, and private actors to up their efforts. On some level, U.S. withdrawal could be good for the agreement if staying in meant that it sucked up all the energy and time by seeking to renegotiate the terms. Since withdrawal is not immediate, what role the U.S. will play in the interim remains to be seen. If recent discussions in Bonn are an indication, that may mean sending a skeletal crew of junior people to sit on the margins.
U.S. withdrawal creates space for the EU and China to position themselves as they have already done as global climate leaders. Over the longer-run, however, it may be harder to sustain a “race to the top” when other countries observe the United States’ backsliding in the domestic sphere. We should have a better sense in 2018 when progress to date and the rules for how to track and review pledges are set to be finalized. The loss of U.S. contributions on global climate finance appears highly likely, which may, in turn, dampen other contributions, a very bad omen for international efforts to support adaptation and resilience.
While the agreement can survive four years without the United States, eight years of a hostile Trump administration would pose a more significant challenge since the world needs U.S. participation (namely, domestic action) for the agreement to be effective. The commitments made in Paris in 2015 were a down payment on what is required to have an even outside chance of keeping temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. If we cannot ratchet up ambition in 2020, then we are in for a world of even more significant warming and weird weather than any of us are prepared for.
All of the contributors agree that this is a major unforced error by the United States, which was totally unnecessary given the flexibility of the agreement. After having exercised 8 years of leadership to remove the stigma of previous inaction, the United States has reversed course and punched itself in the face at a moment when the rest of the world is poised to move on to next generation clean energy that will protect the planet and be the source of jobs and wealth in the future. The best case scenario at this point is that United States elects a new president in 2020 who reverses course and promptly re-joins the agreement in January 2021. Until then, we’ve got some work to do.