Last fall, candidate Donald J. Trump pledged to “cancel” the landmark Paris Agreement, an international agreement seeking to curb the devastating effects of climate change. Since his election, President Trump has softened his stance, claiming to have an “open mind,” but the subject has divided Trump’s top advisers. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and first daughter Ivanka Trump support the agreement, while senior adviser Steve Bannon opposes it. Trump’s rejection of the deal would fulfill his pledge to put “America First,” given that the agreement represents a major manifestation of globalism, to which Bannon and many Trump supporters are opposed. However, rejecting the agreement would be gravely damaging to America’s international reputation and threaten to unravel much-needed international cooperation on climate change, which poses a major long-term threat to the United States.
Trump’s repeated pledges to roll back environmental regulations and withdraw from the Paris Agreement won him many votes in coal-mining areas from the Appalachians to Wyoming. Trump has made quick work of fulfilling these campaign promises. He has already cancelled the Stream Protection Rule, an Obama administration order requiring coal companies to help protect streams and forests. Trump voters would view US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement as a fulfillment of Trump’s campaign promises to resuscitate the coal industry, in which there have been fewer and fewer jobs since the 1980s. Such a move would also allow Trump to rally his base and shift the narrative from the current controversy over his administration’s links to Russian involvement in last November’s presidential election.
While Trump may benefit politically from support from coal-mining areas in the short term, withdrawing from the Paris Agreement would fail to reverse the terminal decline of the coal industry and would damage other sectors of the US economy. This may ultimately cost Trump more political support when he stands for re-election in 2020. Over the last few decades, the coal industry has become increasingly automated, so an increased demand for coal is unlikely to lead to a significant change in the number of jobs in the industry. Furthermore, simply pulling out from the Paris Agreement would not resolve the many problems faced by the coal industry, which fails to compete with cheaper and more abundant sources of energy such as natural gas and renewables. The coal industry has also been hit by a massive, global divestment movement, which has led to a withdrawal of trillions of dollars of investments. US involvement in the Paris Agreement has little to do with the state of the coal industry, and leaving the agreement will not bring coal jobs back.
Moreover, there are serious implications to leaving the agreement. Slowing down action on climate change may hurt the American renewable energy industry and ultimately lead to the loss of jobs or hinder the creation of more new jobs for Americans in a consistently growing industry. Americans employed in clean energy industries, where employment has grown twelve times faster than the overall national rate, now outnumber those employed in the fossil fuel industries. More wind and solar energy is harvested in Republican counties than Democratic counties, and states crucial for the GOP, such as Texas and North Carolina, are some of the largest producers of wind and solar energy respectively. Thus, while withdrawing from the Paris Agreement may enable Trump to temporarily reinvigorate a dying industry that helped send him to the White House last November, such an act may well slow down job creation in industries that are actually in the ascendant, costing him political support in the next presidential election.
America’s international reputation is also on the line. Leaving the Paris Agreement would do serious damage to America’s standing abroad, as the US would be the sole major nation refusing to act on climate change. World leaders from Russian president Vladimir Putin to Chinese president Xi Jinping have acknowledged the need to take action on climate change, and 133 nations have already ratified the Paris Agreement. Even the world’s largest exporter of fossil fuels, Saudi Arabia, has promised to fulfill its pledges under the Paris Agreement. Should Trump trash the Paris Agreement, the US will create a void for other nations to lead global action against climate change. It will be left diplomatically isolated, which will further weaken its global superpower status.
Perhaps most important of all, leaving the Paris Agreement means hindering much-needed action to mitigate the growing effects of climate change. Ratifying nations commit to reduce carbon emissions and are legally bound to prevent temperatures from rising more than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Unfortunately, it has already been estimated that the world will experience a temperature rise of 2.9 to 3.4 degrees Celsius by 2100 even if all the pledges made in the Paris Agreement are realized. According to a recent assessment by the federal government, the United States will not be exempt from the devastating impacts of climate change, which may range from coastal flooding in low-lying areas to heat waves in the Northeast to an elevated risk of drought in the Southwest. The world desperately needs more substantive action on climate change, and a strong nation will have to lead the charge. However, if Trump follows through on his campaign threat, the world’s largest economy and second-largest carbon emitter will cease to participate in actions to combat climate change. This would leave almost no incentive for other nations to make sacrifices to reduce emissions, even though climate change is a problem that requires swift action from all the nations of the world.
If there is one issue on which Donald Trump should behave less like the businessman who fronted The Apprentice and more like the statesman he was during his first address to Congress, it is climate change. For the sake of America’s workers, and the children and grandchildren of everyone alive today, Trump should let his secretary of state and daughter prevail and renege on his promise to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement.
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