“I withdrew the United States from the terrible, one-sided climate accord, it was a total disaster for our country,” Trump told a cheering crowd at a natural gas conference. “They were taking away our wealth. It was almost as though it was meant to hurt the competitiveness—really, competitiveness of the United States. So, we did away with that one.”
Well, not exactly. The US is still a signatory to the landmark agreement signed by President Obama in 2016, and today the Trump administration began the process of withdrawing. It is the first day the administration could technically tell the United Nations secretary general that the US wants out. The withdrawal officially would go into effect November 4, 2020, the day after the US presidential election.
Ever since Trump started talking about leaving the Paris agreement two years ago, the question has been what impact that will have on the health of the planet. Will countries stick to the deal and begin the slow march toward a carbon-free economy, or will they start firing up even more coal-fired plants and gasoline-powered cars?
These nations are making money exporting solar panels, wind turbines, electric cars, and batteries to store renewable energy to nations who have pledged to make the Paris goals. American green energy companies lag far behind, energy economist Jonas Nahm says, who splits his time between the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, in Washington, and China’s Nanjing University. Even though China is the world’s largest emitter of CO2 and other greenhouse gases, it also makes 60 percent of the world’s solar panels, one-third of the world’s wind turbines, and 70 percent of all lithium-ion batteries, he says. “China has invested heavily in combating climate change and it has a huge interest in moving forward even if the US doesn’t,” Nahm says. “The US is giving up a lever to push China to do more.”
The other fear is that the leaders of other big carbon-emitting nations will either follow Trump’s lead or fail to make the tough choices to meet their own 2030 carbon targets. Rob Jackson, who documents greenhouse gas emissions as chair of the Global Carbon Project, worries that Trump’s move sends a bad signal to wobbly countries like Brazil and Australia that have had a hard time meeting stated climate goals. “Paris is helping, but the world is slowing down,” says Jackson. “Part of that is the uncertainty we have introduced.”
Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, is encouraging rainforest deforestation that contributes to climate change. In September, Brazil and the US announced a $100 million fund for “sustainable development” in the Amazon, which is worrying environmental groups given Bolsonaro’s actions so far. Down under, Australian coal is fueling power plants in China, India, and Southeast Asia, while the nation’s domestic emissions reductions have barely made a dent in its stated Paris goals.
On a more positive note, individual US states are bucking the White House. Already 14 states that represent 40 percent of the population have pledged to make the Paris goals by 2025. Former California governor Jerry Brown signed an executive order last year to make the state’s economy entirely carbon neutral and its electricity 100 percent renewable by 2045.