Can Trump renegotiate Paris climate deal? Hardly

President Donald Trump said he is withdrawing the US from Paris climate accord but he also said that the US would begin negotiations to possibly re-enter the Paris accord or a similar deal. Do you think that he seriously wants to renegotiate the deal, and if he does what could be his strategy, his aim? Read few comments.

Thomas Birkland, Professor of Public Policy, North Carolina State University

This decision really comes as no surprise. On more than on occasion, Trump has questioned–or ridiculed–the science that supports the idea that humans are contributing to climate change through CO2 emissions. A major element of his appeal to a certain group of voters is his opposition to international action on climate change because he and members of his administration believe that adherence to the Paris Climate Accord will cost jobs in the United States. In particular, he has shown concern for coal miners in states like West Virginia. There have been many jobs lost in coal mining in the United States, in large part because of changes in the market for fuel for electrical power generation. Natural gas is now, in the United States, more abundant than it has been, it is relatively cheap, and it’s cleaner than coal.

There’s nothing about withdrawing from the Paris Accord that will immediately improve the employment prospects of American coal miners. Perhaps what is surprising about Trump’s decision is that many people in his administration had expressed support for staying in the agreement, even if that involved some kind of renegotiation of its terms.

But Trump is probably not inclined to try to renegotiate the deal, for several reasons. First, he, and much of his political base, simply do not believe that humanly caused climate change is a real problem. (see, for example, the difference between leading Republicans and leading Democrats on the issue here)  And, for the United States, they may be right: the real effects of climate change are likely to be felt in poorer parts of the world.

Second, the Paris Accords were not all that strong to begin with, and the United States was never a real leader in addressing climate change. (There’s an excellent article about this in  The New Yorker).

Third, the key European leaders are solidly behind the Paris deal and are not inclined to renegotiate it.

The withdrawal from the Paris Accord will not happen all of a sudden–the accord has a procedure for withdrawal. But, since the Paris Accords were generally weak in terms of national enforcement of standards, the United States may not, de jure, withdraw from the accord, but has already de facto withdrawn, through things like repealing Obama-era rules to promote cleaner coal-fueled power plants.

One final thought: A large number of jobs in the United  States are in the emerging alternative energy field, and many companies and entrepreneurs are supportive of action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The argument that the Trump administration is ceding both the moral and the technological high ground to countries like China and India might stir up another type of nationalism in the United States, one that is grounded in notions of international competitiveness in science, technology, and industry. With that in mind, a lot of businesses and state and local governments in the United States will continue to support action to slow the growth of greenhouse gas emissions. We have a federal system in the United States, and states like  California and New York will now drive this issue in a way that the federal government has chosen not to. While national (federal) leadership on this issue is important, other people and organizations have a great deal to say about this issue.

Louise  Comfort, Professor and Director, Center for Disaster Management, University of Pittsburgh

It is difficult to believe anything that Donald Trump says.  He lies repeatedly, and has very little knowledge of the global world in which he is operating.  He prides himself on being a ‘negotiator,’ but that requires having others who are willing to negotiate.

Donald Trump is fulfilling an outrageous campaign promise, to the detriment of the U.S. and the rest of the world.  It now will be up to the individual U.S. states, like California, to lead on environmental issues.  Companies also have already made investments in cutting back on carbon emissions.  The majority of the U.S. population strongly supports actions to reduce climate change.  Donald Trump, regrettably, operates in a fantasy world of his own making, and expects other people to believe it.  The world will move on, without Donald Trump, and the majority of U.S. states, companies, and citizens will do the same.

The best the world can do is to ignore him, and continue development strong environmental policies in collaborative format together.

Ravi Rajan, Professor of Environmental Studies, University of California Santa Cruz

Alas, I am not privy to Trump’s thought process. What we know from newspaper reports and from what he said today is that he is concerned with playing hardball, especially with Germany and China, and re-negotiate a range of things, including Climate and Trade deals, in addition to getting Germany to pay more to NATO.

Given that he is withdrawing from a lot of treaties, the underlying issues and concerns will all now be on the table. His electoral base cares mostly about jobs, and he is essentially signaling to them that he is a man of his words. He also has strong lobbyists and ideologues, including those who want to drill, and those who deny climate change. There is therefore little by way of a strong internal driver for adopting the environment or climate as a cause, notwithstanding what one reads about his daughter.

In sum, he wants to renegotiate everything, and it now depends on how serious and how effective other leaders are. I guess the world is looking to Europe and Asia for leadership in the Climate arena, although there is another US election in three plus years and a considerable constituency in the US for re-assuming leadership on Climate. Let us also not forget that states like California have announced that they will negotiate with other countries directly, and a large section of US corporations also lobbied in favor of the Paris deal.

Leah Stokes, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, University of California Santa Barbara

Likely the United States will continue to participate in the UNFCCC negotiations and other related international climate negotiation processes, even as they withdraw from the Paris agreement. Ultimately, the US’s Paris targets were not overly ambitious. Instead, developing countries went further in this agreement than ever before in terms of taking on reduction targets. And it is likely that most countries will continue to try to meet these targets with or without US participation. The climate negotiations will continue–many countries may simply be waiting for 2020 when there will likely be a new US President. I doubt that the Trump Administration has the international credibility to be able to negotiate a new climate deal.

Michael Kraft, Emeritus Professor, University of Wisconsin – Green Bay

There is never an easy way to tell if Trump is serious about anything, or knows much about the issues. So anything is possible. But there really isn’t that much to negotiate about the Paris Agreement since it is so modest and voluntary in the first place. One can only hope that Trump will face a loud and negative response to his indefensible position on the agreement, and eventually will be open to an international arrangement of some kind. Bit for now the US has lost all claim to a leadership position on the most important energy and environmental issue of the 21st Century. What a shame.

J. Timmons Roberts, Professor of Environmental Studies and Sociology, Brown University

Here’s my tweet: Astounding that @POTUS expects the rest of the world to renegotiate something they spent years getting consensus on.

I would go on to say that he probably put that in as “fine print” for Ivanka. It is hard to imagine what he could get that is better than what he did.


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