Paris climate agreement offers US chance to lead
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Climate change remains a growing threat to both our national and global security. Today, rising seas and increased extreme weather have added to instability worldwide while threatening all of us here in the United States.

We cannot afford to ignore the threat of climate change any longer. By avoiding the issue, we only prolong and intensify the consequences. As the former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and former governor of New Jersey, I have witnessed the impact of climate change firsthand.

In 2012, Hurricane Sandy caused unprecedented damage, leaving over 8 million people without power and costing an estimated $25 billion. New Jersey was particularly hard hit. Unfortunately, with rapid climate change, storms like Hurricane Sandy will only increase in frequency and intensity. Combating climate change through mitigation and adaption must remain a priority.

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The Paris Agreement remains a historic step towards that goal. The accord was designed to combat the dangerous effects of climate change by curbing greenhouse gas emissions, with each participating nation required to submit their National Determined Contributions (NDCs) explaining how they will reach their individually determined goals. Unfortunately, the Trump administration is considering withdrawing from the Paris Agreement.

 

If such a decision comes to fruition, this will be a clear step in the wrong direction.

Much of the administration’s concerns with the agreement stem from perceived financial costs of implementing what they see as unnecessary action. Contrary to this belief, the accord is supported by a significant group of business executives, including CEOs from Shell, Morgan Stanley, Procter & Gamble, Bank of America, Coca-Cola, General Electric, and Exxon Mobil, among others.

The agreement also opens up opportunities for job growth and increased energy security through the development of clean energy sources such as wind, solar and safe, reliable nuclear power.

In addition, the U.S. isn’t locked into any specific actions. Participating nations have flexibility to dictate the level of their action through their NDCs and there is room for adjusting those NDCs over time. Specifically, Article 4 notes that countries can alter their goals at any time “with a view to enhancing its level of ambition.”

President Trump has expressed concerned that this means the U.S. will be forced to implement Obama-era policies, but many experts agree that the accord is vague enough to allow for nations to lower their ambitions as well. While lowering ambitions is not an ideal alternative, it is vital that the U.S. continues to support action on climate change. 

Beyond combating global warming and supporting domestic business interests, remaining a part of the Paris Agreement has clear benefits to the U.S. at large. Nations such as China and India are already eyeing an opportunity to take over America’s role as the world leader on this issue.

By withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, the U.S. cedes power and influence to our rivals. If we retreat on our promises and cede leadership on climate issues, we lose credibility. Further, we lose the ability to hold other countries accountable for a broader range of issues. The U.S. has greatly benefited from being the world’s leader on this issue, but that role only lasts as long as we act on it.

I urge the president to listen to the business community and remain in the Paris Agreement. By remaining in the accord, the U.S. has an opportunity to combat the dangerous impacts of climate change while developing new job markets and maintaining its credibility and role as a global power.

The longer we wait to act, the more extreme the consequences. Future hurricanes will increasingly batter our coasts while droughts plague the west. Now is not the time for petty partisan politics; rather it is the time for coming together to protect our environment, our businesses, our leadership and our national security from future instability.

Christine Todd Whitman (@GovCTW) is the former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency under President George W. Bush. She previously served as the governor of New Jersey and now runs her own consulting firm. 


The views of contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.