A mounting wave of reaction from world leaders, U.S. states and cities, businesses, and climate analysts and activists greeted Donald Trump’s announcement Thursday afternoon that he will withdraw the United States from the landmark global climate deal that 195 countries negotiated in Paris in 2015.
The overwhelming message: The rest of the world (apart from traditional U.S. allies Syria and Nicaragua) is getting on with the job of implementing the Paris agreement. U.S. states, cities, universities, and businesses will submit their own plan for meeting their country’s Paris targets. And if Trump thinks he can step away from Paris to negotiate a better deal for Americans, he’s about to crash into the harsh, intractable reality of international diplomacy.
“We are getting out,” the former reality TV star said in a statement from the White House Rose Garden. “We will start to negotiate, and we will see if we can make a deal that’s fair. And if we can, that’s great.” (Full, meandering text of Trump’s speech here.)
‘Make the Planet (and Pittsburgh) Great Again’
But otherwise, “it is time to put Youngstown, Ohio; Detroit, Michigan, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, along with many, many other locations within our great country, before Paris, France,” Trump added. “It is time to make America great again.”
The New York Times had Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto responding on Twitter: “I can assure you that we will follow the guidelines of the Paris Agreement for our people, our economy & future.” And French President Emmanuel Macron concluded his response to Trump’s statement with what may have been the most widely-quoted phrase of the last 24 hours: “Let’s make our planet great again.”
The newly-minted French president also seized the opportunity to reach out to U.S. “scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, committed citizens” who are appalled at a decision being made in their name. “I want to say that they will find in France a second homeland,” he said. “I call on them: ‘Come and work here with us, to work together on concrete solutions for our climate.’” It was the first time a French president had addressed the country and the world from the Elysée Palace in English.
“The United States has turned its back on the world, but we haven’t turned our backs on the Americans,” Macron added in the French version of his speech.
Nothing to Renegotiate
The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC) Secretariat, in a suitably diplomatic statement, immediately put paid to Trump’s notion that he could unilaterally reopen the complex, meticulously-negotiated international agreement that achieved the fastest entry into force in modern history.
“The Secretariat also notes the announced intention to renegotiate the modalities for the U.S. participation in the agreement. In this regard, it stands ready to engage in dialogue with the United States government regarding the implications of this announcement,” the FCCC said. But “the Paris Agreement remains a historic treaty signed by 195 Parties and ratified by 146 countries plus the European Union. Therefore it cannot be renegotiated based on the request of a single Party.”
If anything, tweeted EU Climate Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete, “today’s announcement has galvanized us rather than weakened us, and this vacuum will be filled by new, broad, committed leadership.”
That leadership got off to a decisive start with a statement from Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni: “We deem the momentum generated in Paris in December 2015 irreversible and we firmly believe that the Paris agreement cannot be renegotiated, since it is a vital instrument for our planet, societies, and economies,” they said. In his televised address from the Elysée, Macron added that Trump “committed an error for the interests of his country, his people, and a mistake for the future of our planet,” and France “will not renegotiate a less ambitious accord.” On climate, he affirmed, “there is no plan B because there is no planet B.”
Opening the Floodgates
After months of White House politicking, followed by intensifying international pressure on the U.S. to stick with the Paris deal, Trump’s announcement seemed to unleash a torrent of pent-up frustration, an extension of the passionate defence of global climate action that first emerged in the early days of the 2016 UN climate conference in Marrakech.
“If one country decides to leave a void, I can guarantee that someone else will occupy it,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres [subs req’d], adding that the “consequences” of disengagement would include a loss of integration that could undermine a country’s “internal security”. Climate Action Network Europe Executive Director Wendel Trio told E&E News that EU countries are also discussing trade retaliation, in the form of “potential border tax adjustments toward consumer goods that would be traded from the United States.”
In an ironic twist for a White House occupant who built his election campaign on the promise that he “digs coal”, U.S. coal stocks (as well as renewable energy shares) lost value Wednesday, on initial reports that Trump’s decision was imminent. “The market reaction reflects concerns, raised by some coal companies in recent months, that a U.S. exit from the Paris climate agreement could unleash a global backlash against coal interests outside the United States,” Reuters reported.
Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk immediately announced he would step away from his somewhat controversial role as a key tech advisor to the Trump White House. “Am departing presidential councils,” he tweeted. “Climate change is real. Leaving Paris is not good for America or the world.”
“Disappointed with today’s decision on the Paris Agreement,” agreed General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt. “Climate change is real. Industry must now lead and not depend on government.”
Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp said Trump had chosen “a course that defies logic, ignores overwhelming scientific evidence, and disregards the advice of more than 1,000 business leaders who urged him to stand up for climate action and our clean energy economy.” The “main victims of this reckless decision,” he added, “will be American workers and families. It will damage the United States far more than it damages the rest of the world. Shirking our obligation to lead will leave America isolated.”
“Trump’s extremism has isolated us from the global coalition we helped to create—with China, Germany, India, Japan, and 190 other countries—to fight the central environmental challenge of our time,” said Natural Resources Defense Council President Rhea Suh. “He’s sidelined American workers in the clean energy boom that’s remaking the global economy. And he’s abandoned our children to climate catastrophe.”
That means “it’s on the rest of us now—state and local officials, business leaders, citizens, educators, consumers, activists, and congressional members who grasp the stakes for our future—to keep the promise of Paris alive.”
International Leaders Step Up
A remarkable, pervasive response from international leaders largely resolved lingering worries that the U.S. withdrawal might prompt other countries to exit Paris or water down their carbon reduction commitments, thereby severely undermining the historic global deal.
“As a responsible large developing country, China’s resolve, aims, and policy moves in dealing with climate change will not change,” said foreign ministry spokesperson Lu Kang. Referring to Trump’s oft-repeated meme that climate change is a “hoax” by China aimed at weakening the U.S., Premier Li Keqiang added: “Fighting climate change is a global consensus, it’s not invented by China.
On Friday, China and the EU were expected to announce “a green alliance to combat climate change and counteract any retreat from international action”. And earlier this week, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi affirmed his commitment to climate action in a meeting with Merkel.
“We are deeply disappointed that the United States federal government has decided to withdraw from the Paris agreement,” said Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. “Canada is unwavering in our commitment to fight climate change and support clean economic growth. Canadians know we need to take decisive and collective action to tackle the many harsh realities of our changing climate.”
“It’s as if they’ve turned their back on the wisdom of humanity,” Japanese environment minister Koichi Yamamoto said of the U.S. “In addition to being disappointed, I’m also angry.” In its more formal statement, Japan’s foreign ministry said climate change “requires a concerted effort by the whole of the international community,” and “Japan was hoping to work with the United States within the framework of the Paris agreement.”
At least one vulnerable small island state weighed in, as well. “While we are extremely disappointed to see the United States seeking to roll back its efforts to reduce emissions, we are heartened to see the rest of the world remains firmly committed to the Paris agreement and to reaping the enormous economic opportunities that come with it,” said Marshall Islands President Hilda Heine. “My country’s survival depends on every country delivering on the promises they made in Paris,” and “our own commitment to it will never waver.”
The Vatican characterized the White House announcement as a “huge slap in the face” for Pope Francis and a “disaster for everyone”, coming just days after the pontiff presented Trump with a copy of his landmark encyclical on climate change, Laudato Si’ (Praise Be).
The Netherlands Foreign Minister Bert Koenders echoed that statement, calling the U.S. withdrawal “a cardinal mistake that is damaging to citizens around the world, including those of the United States. After years of negotiations that led to a good and workable agreement, this feels like a slap in the face,” and “I see no desire for renegotiation here.”
Even Trump’s paymasters loan sharks allies in Russia confirmed they would honour the Paris deal. “President Putin signed this convention in Paris,” said Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov. “Russia attaches great significance to it.”
And in a joint statement, the EU and the African Union said climate change will be high on the agenda at their next summit in November. The two blocs reaffirmed their commitment “to continuing to address the adverse effects of climate change on human and animal health, natural ecosystems, and other social and economic impacts that threaten our developmental gains as a global community.”
U.S. Reaction: ‘Deviant Behaviour from the Highest Office’
Reaction in the United States, meanwhile, showed how powerless Trump is likely to be in countering states and cities that are already leading their country’s response to climate change.
“This is an insane move by this president,” said California Governor Jerry Brown, who described the White House announcement as “deviant behaviour from the highest office in the land.”
“We governors are going to step into this cockpit and fly the plane,” agreed Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee. “The president wants to ground it. We’re going to fly it.”
Brown, Inslee, and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced plans to form a U.S. Climate Alliance to uphold the country’s Paris commitments, with Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy and Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe already expressing interest in the group.
The New York Times took the story further, reporting that the alliance brings the three states together with 30 mayors, 80 university presidents, and more than 100 businesses so far—and will negotiate with the United Nations to have its action commitment accepted alongside the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) from countries that remain part of the Paris deal. The paper listed Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Salt Lake City as communities that have all signed on, while The Hill reported that New York Mayor Bill de Blasio is also committed to the global deal.
Trump “should know that climate change is a dagger aimed straight at the heart of New York City,” de Blasio tweeted. “The president withdrawing from the Paris agreement would be horribly destructive for the planet, the country, and this city.”
“We’re going to do everything America would have done if it had stayed committed,” said former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, who’s coordinating the new alliance. Former UN climate secretary Christiana Figueres, who cast Trump’s Rose Garden moment as “vacuous political melodrama”, said there’s no formal mechanism to include entities other than countries in the Paris accord. But the alliance’s reports could still be included in future UN progress updates on Paris implementation.
The Georgetown Climate Center published a bipartisan list of statements and commitments from the governors of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, and Washington, and from District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser.
“Ask any Montana farmer, rancher, hunter, angler, or skier—climate change is real and poses a threat to our economy and way of life,” said Governor Steve Bullock. “To not acknowledge that or deal with it in a responsible way is short-sighted and dangerous.”
“I share concerns many have voiced about flaws in the Paris climate agreement,” added Ohio Governor John Kasich. “I’m convinced we can correct them and improve the agreement, however, by showing leadership and constructively engaging with like-minded nations, not by joining the ranks of holdouts like Syria and Nicaragua.”
C40 Cities circulated an inventory that detailed 2,382 climate actions—37% of which involve some form of international collaboration—already undertaken by the 12 U.S. communities that participate in the global initiative. Those cities are home to one in five of the country’s urban dwellers and account for 30% of U.S. GDP.
Ahead in Monday’s Energy Mix: Is the Paris Agreement better off without the U.S. at the table?