The United States is the Biggest Loser in Trump’s Decision to Quit Paris Climate Pact

US President Donald J. Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement is in line with his past denials of the reality of climate change, which he has called an “expensive hoax.” His decision, however, will have grave consequences for the United States.

Supported by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt, Trump has made clear his intention to scrap former US President Barack Obama’s greenhouse-gas-emissions-reduction targets and to dismantle the Clean Power Plan. Moreover, Trump and Pruitt have also declared that the United States will renege on its $3-billion pledge to the Green Climate Fund. 

The Trump administration appears to have few qualms about the potential for increased CO2 and methane emissions from coal and natural gas production. It believes these sectors create jobs and are important to its political base. Rather than try to marry political priorities with climate commitments, the Trump administration has rejected any emissions-reduction targets and put its faith in private sector technology innovation to continue to produce the substantial emissions reductions we have seen as a result of the substitution of shale gas for coal.

Despite bucking international consensus, the Trump administration asserts that other countries should learn from the US experience. This position is counter to the views of many US states and cities, many of that have publicly declared they will continue to reduce carbon emissions.  

Moreover, although coal regions may hope for a revival, market realities suggest otherwise. Market and technology forces are driving economics in a way that makes renewables, natural gas, and energy efficiency cost-effective and viable options for reducing pollution and carbon emissions. Thus, US states and cities are capitalizing on clean energy resources and reducing emissions, regardless of the Paris agreement’s non-binding targets and the president’s decision to withdraw.

Indeed, states and cities are increasingly setting such emissions-reduction targets. California Gov. Jerry Brown, for example, is preparing to expand his state’s already considerable international involvement in the climate arena. However, on the national level, the sad fact is that there was room for debate on US policies, as evidenced by a recent proposal from former Treasury Secretaries James A. Baker III, George P. Shultz and Henry M. Paulson, Jr., for a carbon tax and a potential conversation about incentives and other measures without withdrawing from the Paris climate accord—a largely aspirational and non-binding agreement.

As Dan Balz wrote in the Washington Post  on June 2, the Trump administration’s rhetoric promotes an almost xenophobic notion that others are taking advantage of the United States. Many have commented on the negative impact Trump’s decision to leave the Paris deal will have on our foreign policy and national security. In fact, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and US Defense Secretary James Mattis, both by nature attuned to the diplomatic and international ramifications, had argued to stay in the agreement.

The president’s blatantly political, selfish, and misinformed decision sends a signal that, despite being the second-largest carbon emitter in the world, the US government not only does not support international collaboration to address climate change, but also does not care about the impact of climate change on other countries, especially developing countries.

This is a crucial point to consider as the bulk of future energy demand will come from developing countries as population, urbanization, and income spurs economic growth. These are the markets of the future. US companies need to pursue these markets and US jobs will increasingly depend on them. Additionally, greenhouse gas emissions stemming from energy growth in developing countries will exacerbate the serious climate and environmental impacts the world is already seeing. 

Contrary to the Trump administration’s allegations, governments in both the industrial and developing world, including in India and China (see the recent Atlantic Council report on energy transformation in China), are taking serious steps to mitigate emissions. The United States should be working with these countries to facilitate this transition, particularly as air pollution, sea-level rise, and warming weather patterns (e.g. El Nino) are a global and transnational phenomena that affect the United States’ and the global environment. Climate change is accelerating already serious environmental degradation in some of the world’s poorest countries. These impacts, in turn, affect US national security as instability, conflicts, and migration in volatile regions like the Middle East and the Sahel create opportunities for terrorist groups and authoritarian leaders.

In addition to this security logic, the United States should engage with other countries to address environmental issues, enhance economic development, and create new markets for US goods and services.  Unfortunately, withdrawing from a universally-supported agreement will make other countries less likely to turn to the United States for collaboration, investment, and technology—a leadership gap others will likely fill.

Proposed cuts in the FY 2018 administration budget for the State Department, US Agency for International Development, US Trade and Development Agency, Overseas Private Investment Corporation, Department of Energy, and the Environmental Protection Agency are cause for further concern that the Trump administration is withdrawing from vital international engagements and organizations. Such a disengagement will diminish US power and economic influence. Although the administration says that it will continue to engage with other countries in pursuit of domestic interests and get better deals for the United States, this is being approached in a narrow, nationalistic, and mercantilist way that is unlikely to be well-received by many countries, including US allies.

As the US Congress considers FY 2018 agency budgets, it is critically important for lawmakers to realize the importance of continuing financial support for vital global development challenges and to push back against further international disengagement by the Trump administration.

Robert F. Ichord, Jr. is a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Global Energy Center. He is a former deputy assistant secretary for energy transformation in the State Department’s Bureau of Energy Resources.

Image: US President Donald J. Trump (left) shook hands with Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt after announcing his decision that the United States will withdraw from the Paris climate agreement in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington on June 1. (Reuters/Joshua Roberts)