The U.S. Wants To Be A Leader On Climate Change, Not A Pariah

All the world is lining up to do the right thing.
06/02/2017 10:04 am ET Updated Jun 02, 2017
JIM WATSON via Getty Images

Mr. Trump has committed an act of vandalism against the greatest achievement of the 21st century—the Paris Climate Agreement. He has also inflicted grievous harm on America’s prestige and place in the world. America will now join the other two countries in the world, Syria and Nicaragua, that are not parties to the Paris Agreement.

But his decision to remove America from the agreement may not matter that much to the rest of the world. China and the EU have announced an agreement to lead the world in stopping climate change. When Mr. Obama was president, it was the U.S. and China in that pact, and it was their joint efforts that helped make the Paris Agreement happen.

Mr. Trump has now declared himself the enemy of the world’s countries and their peoples. It is easy to unite when you have a common enemy. We are already seeing greater determination among them to band together. I heard China’s chief climate negotiator explain to 300 Chinese judges that no matter what any other country did, China would spare no effort to combat climate change, because it was in the interest of China to do so. And the duty of the Chinese judges, according to the chief judge of the Supreme People’s Court environment panel, is to use the law to combat climate change.

I appeared on the BBC morning news show today to give my views on Mr. Trump’s action. I listened to more than a half hour of prime-time about climate change, before my own interview. Reflecting later, I realized that Mr. Trump has achieved what no one before him has done, which is to make climate change into breaking global news, filling prime-time. No one will be left in doubt of the importance of combating climate change. And all the world is lining up to do the right thing.

Had he kept the U.S. at the table, there is little doubt that he would have used his office to slow down other countries’ efforts as much as possible. Now they are likely to unite and he has put a spark under them to move forward.

... Trump has achieved what no one before him has done, which is to make climate change into breaking global news...

Mr. Trump has self-declared himself the enemy of the world. But he has not spoken for America, and it is very important to understand this.

According to a recent poll by the Yale Climate Change Communications Program, 69% of registered voters in America want to stay in the Paris Agreement. Only 13% want to leave. Perhaps surprisingly, a majority in every one of the 50 American states wants to stay in the Agreement. The U.S. wants to be a leader on climate, not a pariah. The president is thwarting the will of the people.

Already, according to the Washington Post, 30 American states have come out against Mr. Trump’s action. That represents most of the American economy. California alone is the 6th largest economy in the world. Put together with New York, they are the 4th largest economy in the world. And they are both deeply committed to combatting climate change, with world-leading programs to build renewable energy.

These 30 states will go ahead, and the president is powerless to do anything about it. He is about to learn another lesson about the limits of presidential power. It works by persuasion not fiat. All he can do on his own is to kill the initiatives Mr. Obama was able to put in place on his own, since he had no help from Congress. While these are important, the fact is that the majority of states, not to mention many of America’s leading companies, are committed to moving forward without federal help. They will get on with the work.

Remember that Mr. Trump is a blip, an unfortunate blip. It takes four years to leave the Paris Agreement. The federal government will stall for this time. Then the enemy of the world will exit stage right - unless of course his propaganda has eroded the brains of Americans and they hire him again.

When he leaves, America can reignite its commitment to the Paris Agreement. The world will be hoping for it, but it will not have waited. It will have moved ahead.

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