No, the Paris Agreement has not been Trumped

The US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement is helping the deal emerge stronger than before, writes Victoria University’s Dr Adrian Macey

Adrian MACEY, June 2017

There were dire forecasts for the future of global efforts to combat climate change before and immediately after

United States President Donald Trump’s decision to leave the Paris Agreement. Forty-eight hours later, however, following reactions from around the globe, the prognosis was not nearly so bad.

Three things are clear.

First, the Paris Agreement is not up for renegotiation. That has been made plain by the major players — China, India and Europe. Many compromises were made to achieve it. These included some changes made solely to keep the US on board. As an example, there was a last-minute change of a ‘shall’ to a ‘should’, which angered some countries. So there is little chance the US would get a better deal even if the Paris Agreement were reopened.

Second, the US can, if it wishes, reduce what President Trump sees as an unfair burden without any need to renegotiate—or to ‘leave’—the Paris Agreement. So the US does not need to ‘get a better deal’. This is because the US contribution or NDC—Nationally Determined Contribution—is what it says: nationallydetermined, not decreed by the Paris Agreement. It is non-binding. So the US could reduce the ambition of its target. The other concern, payment into the Green Climate Fund to help developing countries deal with climate change, is also non-binding. Further, national contributions to this fund are nowhere laid down in the Paris Agreement.

The withdrawal looks like being an own goal for the US.

Third, the effect of the US withdrawal will be attenuated by the commitment of many US states, cities and businesses to continue as if the US were still fully in the Paris Agreement. This is a recognition that the transition away from fossil fuels and toward clean energy is unstoppable, because it makes economic sense. Using the withdrawal from the Paris Agreement to protect jobs in the coal industry makes no economic sense. States, cities and businesses recognise that the potential for job creation in the clean energy sector vastly exceeds that of the fossil fuel industry, even if propped up by subsidies.

Internationally, the withdrawal looks like being an own goal for the US. It has relinquished its leadership position with China on climate (the ‘G2’), allowing others to fill the gap, starting with Europe.

If anything, the Paris Agreement has come out of this test stronger than before. The US action has prompted very strong endorsements and agreements to work together among major countries, including, importantly, India, which at the time the Paris Agreement was signed off had been rather less enthusiastic. This will provide a good basis for a future US administration to get back on board.