Paris climate deal at risk of falling apart following Trump victory

Donald Trump speaking at CPAC 2011 in Washington, D.C. (Gage Skidmore/flickr)

Days after the Paris climate agreement came into force it is already under threat of falling apart. U.S. president-elect Donald Trump pledged during his campaign to back out of the deal. The long-standing climate-change denier also said that the U.S. would not put any money toward international climate change deals, threatening the $100 billion fund established by the U.N. to support developing countries.

It could deliver a major blow to the effort to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Activists are worried as new reports show the need for immediate action to limit global warming. The last five years were the warmest on record, according to the World Meteorological Organization. The warmer climate is contributing to more extreme weather incidents like flooding and drought. Last week, the U.N. warned that failing to limit carbon emissions by 2020 would set the world on a course for 3 C warming by the end of the century.

“It is devastating. It is a very difficult hurdle for parties to overcome,” Jessee Bragg, media director for Corporate Accountability International, told Humanosphere. “Now is not the time to slow down and think about how to fix this process. It is time to take action.”

Trump is a well-documented climate change skeptic.

The Obama administration used executive action to advance climate-friendly policies, including joining the Paris Agreement. The ploy to get around a divided Congress means that Trump can override those orders. He promised to make cuts to climate change programs as a part of his plan to save $100 billion in government spending over eight years.

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“We’re going to put America first,” he said at a rally in Michigan earlier this month. “That includes canceling billions in climate change spending for the United Nations, a number Hillary wants to increase, and instead use that money to provide for American infrastructure including clean water, clean air and safety.”

Trump did not discuss climate change often during the campaign trail. When Science Debate asked him and the other presidential candidates about the issue, Trump focused on alternative spending priorities. They included eliminating malaria, investing in energy that ends fossil fuel dependence and increasing food production.

The answer, taken with his previously stated skepticism, show that it is not an issue of concern for Trump. That worries activists.

“Trump’s election is a disaster, but it cannot be the end of the international climate process. We’re not giving up the fight and neither should the international community,” May Boeve, executive director of the climate change campaigner 350.org, said in a statement. “Trump will try and slam the brakes on climate action, which means we need to throw all of our weight on the accelerator.”

The election dampens the celebration for the Paris Agreement. Delegates from more than 200 countries are currently meeting in Marrakech, Morocco, to iron out some of the details on how to enact the agreement. The Paris deal was a major victory for getting countries like the U.S. and China to agree to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Bragg said there is a “heavy fog” over the civil society groups and activists at the event in Marrakech following the election results. The meeting is going on as scheduled, but there is a “somber” demeanor as the world’s second-largest carbon emitter may leave the agreement.

“In politics, we know that the pendulum swings from one side to the other, but we know that the science is moving in just one direction,” said Mariana Panuncio-Feldman, senior director at the World Wildlife Fund, at a press conference in Marrakech today. “We know that yesterday’s election is undoubtedly going to affect the tone of the negotiations, but we know that the task that we have in front of us remains the same.”

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More concerning is the fact that the U.S. would have to leave the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to get out of the Paris deal. The UNFCCC was a treaty negotiated in 1992. It is a guiding force for the major international meetings and negotiations on climate change for the past quarter century. Leaving the treaty would mean that the U.S. would no longer attend the annual Conferences of the Parties meeting, like the one currently happening in Marrakech.

Once out of the UNFCCC, it would take four years to formally leave the Paris Agreement. A new president could be in office by the time the U.S. withdraws, but the damage may be hard to fix. It is not a legally binding agreement, something many countries tried to achieve during the negotiations, which leaves more wiggle room for the Trump administration not to comply immediately after taking office.

Aside from international agreements, he can also cancel the pledge by the U.S. to contribute $3 billion to the U.N. green climate fund. The fund is seeking to raise $100 billion to support developing countries adapt to climate change and develop clean energy solutions. That leaves the rest of the world on the hook to stop the progress of global warming.

“We need the rest of the world to charge ahead and look beyond the White House to partner with civil society, businesses and local governments who are still committed to climate action,” Boeve said in a statement. “Our work becomes much harder now, but it’s not impossible, and we refuse to give up hope.”

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About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.

  • tiredofallthis

    It won’t take four years for Trump to get out of the Paris Treaty, or one year, or one day. The US Constitution requires that all treaties must be ratified by a 2/3’s vote of the US Senate. President Obama simply did not have the authority to unilaterally ratify the Paris Treaty, which was communicated by the Republicans to all concerned. Since the Paris Treaty was not ratified in accordance with the US Constitution all Trump has to do is revoke the ratification which was improper in the first place. It is like any other Executive Order. All this stuff about having to wait four years is total nonsense.