Scrapping Paris: The negative impact and the dire fallout
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Chaotic policymaking in the U.S. has prevailed again, and this time, its victim is the Paris climate agreement. President Trump, on the basis of no scientific advice or evidence, has pulled the United States out of the agreement. Trump has taken this step despite pleas from many major U.S. business leaders, including some of the oil majors, to not do so, unsurprisingly stating that the agreement was “less about the climate and more about other countries gaining a financial advantage over the United States.”

He took this step after his deplorable performance at the G-7 summit, where he exhibited the diplomatic tact of a “drunk tourist” and stood alone in his ignorance of the environmental threats facing the planet.

Climate fundamentalism

The president seems to think that rolling back the clock is the way to the future. In today’s announcement, Trump even went so far as to say that the U.S. coal industry is coming back. Coal still features prominently in his agenda, despite the fact that virtually all of the major U.S. electricity companies have moved away from building coal-fired plants.

In fact, the clean energy revolution is even overtaking natural gas as an electricity source. The price of solar cells has fallen by 90 percent over the last 20 years and Bloomberg Energy News is predicting that, by 2022, it will be cheaper to build and operate a solar electricity facility than it will be to operate an existing natural gas plant. U.S. industry is responding positively to this movement and is racing to keep up with China, Japan and Western Europe in the development of the low carbon economy.

However, the question remains as to whether Trump, a self-defined business guru, will ever embrace these realities. The answer, I think, is no.

Trump has instead anchored himself to a different narrative that rests on the idea that reducing carbon dioxide emissions is bad for the American economy — a claim which is heavily contradicted by the facts. He cited a study that the Paris agreement would create a great deal of unemployment in the U.S. In contradiction to virtually every other economic study published up to now.

A report by Citibank released prior to the Paris conference estimates that that climate change could cost the global economy between $2 and $72 trillion between 2015 and 2060. The renewable energy industry now employs more Americans than oil and gas. The shift away from oil seems to be happening and seems to be yielding more impressive dividends.

Impact from China to Canada

Much has been written about Trump’s affinity for Russia and Vladimir Putin, but the real beneficiary of his policies on both trade and climate change would appear to be China. President Xi has made it clear that China will continue to support the Paris deal and will push ahead with its promises to stabilize its emissions of CO2 by 2030.

China has shelved plans to build up to 500 new coal plants and is reducing its involvement in coal mining. Evidence is also emerging that China is already in sight of stabilization over the next couple of years. With increasing support from the international community, China is poised to leave the U.S. in its dust on two major challenges which the world faces over the next decade — globalization and climate change.

Despite all of the election guff about climate change being a hoax invented by the Chinese, climate scientists are becoming increasingly alarmed about the state of the Antarctic ice sheets and the ice cap that covers all of Greenland. If this rapid melting speeds up, we could be looking at increases in sea levels of up to seven meters by the end of the century. So much for Mar-a-Lago.

The president managed to avoid any mention of the science of climate change. All joking aside, the point remains that the U.S. has and will continue to cut funding for climate research to almost zero. According to Mick Mulvaney, the budget director and "expert" on climate change: "We consider that to be a waste of your money".

What will this mean for the Paris accord? For the moment, nothing. The president has succeeded in uniting the climate world against him. Both Europe and China seem determined to press on. Many developing countries see Paris as in their interests also. India is proceeding with a massive shift in rural electrification from conventional grids to decentralized renewable sources. 

The Paris agreement and the international climate process looks likely to survive Trump’s ostrich-like maneuver. What today’s short announcement made clear was that he cares little for the rest of the members of the Paris agreement. But science tells us that we have little room to spare and losing the active support of one of the largest emitters is bound to slow the process down, just as it needs to accelerate.

Many U.S. companies have already seen the future and will continue to innovate, particularly in renewable electricity and cars, and the U.S. may continue to see modest progress. Do not underestimate the effects on global climate science. While Mulvaney thinks it is a waste of money, it is the scientists who have continually rung the alarm bells. Some of those bells may well be silenced.

David Runnalls is a distinguished fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI), a Canadian think tank that focuses on governance of the global economy, global security and international law. David is also a senior fellow at the Smart Prosperity Institute, a policy think tank focused on promoting a clean-energy economy, and a visiting professor at the University of Ottawa’s Institute for the Environment.

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