There are several criteria that could be used to evaluate President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, but all lead to the same conclusion: This decision constitutes a serious offense against our planet and against humanity.
The first criterion for judgement is the concrete impact on the fight against global warming. Some say that Trump may have involuntarily and ironically given this fight a boost. But irony does not always lead to the truth. The United States is the world’s first leading economic power and the second biggest polluter. The U.S. had committed to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions by 26 percent to 28 percent by 2025, as compared to 2005. They were to contribute financially to scientific research and to national and international actions against global warming. Turning their back on this commitment and creating the risk of a domino effect is and will remain a grave error.
This is all the more true because the Agreement of 12 December 2015 is a starting point and not a final point. Limiting temperature increases to 2°C, or even 1.5 °C, can only be achieved if today’s national contributions are made even more ambitious and implemented. From this point of view, the immediate reaction of governments, regions, cities, private and public businesses, and civil society around the world is extremely encouraging. Many willing partners of good faith in the United States have also been magnificent in their response. But, concretely, we will have to compensate and even overcompensate for the U.S. government’s withdrawal, in particular regarding the finances and technologies for Africa and developing countries. We will have to ensure transparency and follow-up for the Agreement, develop carbon pricing, coordinate the many initiatives of the “Friends of the Paris Agreement”: it is necessary but it will not be easy.
Another criterion for evaluation is the measurement of truth and falsehoods accompanying the presidential decision. Untrue: the environmental situation in the United States is a model for others. Untrue: withdrawal from the Agreement would create many jobs in the United States; in fact it intends to shut the door on green growth and the most promising sectors for the future. Untrue again: the supposed advantage the Paris Agreement gives China and India, to the detriment of the United States; the financial contributions that only the U.S. would be asked to bear. This is completely untrue, as is the so-called immediacy of implementation: Article 28 of the Agreement provides a possible effective withdrawal date of 5 November 2020 at the earliest, which is to say two days after... the next presidential election.
The third criterion is the political impact of this withdrawal. It is not up to me to judge internal American affairs, even if there is a whiff of election politics floating in the air. In any event, on the international level the damage is obvious. The United States is losing influence, and stands as the only opponent of the Agreement – alongside Bashar al-Assad’s Syria –, sending friends of the American people the sad image of unilateral policy-making, devoid of moral values and long-term vision. In addition, growing poverty and migration will have negative consequences on security.
A final argument is Trump’s campaign promise. Indeed, as a candidate he asserted that global warming was “a hoax created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive”, and that if he were elected he would pull out of the agreement. An election victory does not transform demagoguery into a positive decision. The Paris Agreement, which it was my honor to prepare and negotiate with all the countries and then to preside, is no doubt a compromise agreement, but it represents the best compromise one could find. No, the sky is not a waste bin. No, we cannot move backwards. The spirit of Paris must prevail.