Donald Trump has ditched the Paris climate change agreement, but he can’t kill it

The President’s announcement has split his administration with, for instance, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson favouring continued US support for Paris

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The Independent Online

US President Donald Trump announced Thursday that he is pulling the United States out of the 2015 Paris climate change deal. The choice, his biggest international policy decision to date, is an ill thought through move that will retard international efforts to tackle global warming and has already provoked an international furore of condemnation.

The US president's decision is not wholly surprising given that he previously asserted that “the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive”, and that he also received a letter last week from more than 20 Republican Senators urging him to quit the 2015 agreement. Moreover, Trump last week refused to indicate his support at G7 for the Paris deal. 

Trump's announcement has split his administration with, for instance, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson favouring continued US support for Paris. Moreover, there is also significant support within the nation’s business community for this stance too. Many US multinationals – including in the energy sector – argue that it is better for United States to keep a seat at the table and influence an accord that big US businesses are ultimately likely to have to abide by in coming years.

Merkel calls Trump Paris agreement decision 'utterly regrettable'

Trump’s decision making on Paris has being closely watched, internationally, given the head of steam that is currently behind the deal. There is significant concern that now the United States (the world’s second largest greenhouse gas polluter) is withdrawing, this will undermine the agreement.

Yet, while US departure from Paris will be a body blow for international efforts to tackle climate change, it by no means sounds a death knell for the deal. By design, the agreement is a flexible, ‘bottom-up’ approach whereby countries develop bespoke plans to realise emissions targets with national and sub-national governments working in partnership with business. In other words, while Paris created a global architecture for tackling global warming, it recognises that diverse, often decentralised policies are required by different types of economies to meet climate commitments. 

That this approach makes sense is reflected in the diversity of climate measures that countries, pre-Paris, had started to make in response to global warming. This was illustrated in a major report by the Grantham Institute at the London School of Economics which focused on 98 countries plus the EU, together accounting for 93 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and revealed there are more than 800 climate-change laws and policies in place across the world, rising from 54 in 1997.  

Some 45 countries, including the 28 EU members as a bloc, have economy wide targets to reduce their emissions. Together, they account for over 75 per cent of global emissions.

In addition, 41 states have economy-wide targets up to 2020, and 22 have targets beyond 2020.  Moreover, 86 countries have specific targets for renewable energy, energy demand, transportation or land-use, land-use change and forestry, while some 80 per cent of countries have renewable targets; the majority of them are executive policies. 

Collectively, what this underlines is that the best way to tackle climate change, going forward, is a decentralised approach with nations meeting their target commitments in innovative and effective ways that builds on this momentum. Even now Trump is pulling the United States out of the deal, Paris could therefore still provide a resilient, flexible framework for climate action that potentially becomes a key foundation stone of future sustainable development for billions across the world.

Andrew Hammond is an Associate at LSE IDEAS at the London School of Economics

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