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Sustainable Energy

Trump’s Paris Exit Matters, but Not as Much as America’s Policies at Home

The president has already made it clear that cutting emissions won’t be a priority.

It’s all but certain now. The U.S. under President Donald Trump will pull out of the Paris climate agreement in a move that dramatically alters the landscape of global climate leadership, weakens the international agreement, and imperils America’s emissions goals.

While an official announcement has not yet been made, Trump has been teasing the decision for some time now—and did again Wednesday morning on Twitter, even as multiple news outlets ran stories that the move was a foregone conclusion.

If it happens, it would be very bad for the world’s efforts to combat climate change (see “Exiting Paris Climate Accords Would Exact a Steep Global Cost”). Big developing countries like India and Brazil, which are also big greenhouse-gas emitters, may follow America out of the agreement, further weakening its ability to have an impact on global emissions.

Those who want the U.S. to remain in have some reason for hope. A long list of surprising people and companies—including ExxonMobil, several Republican senators, and Trump’s secretary of state, Rex Tillerson (who was CEO of ExxonMobil before assuming his current role)—have all advocated for staying in the climate pact in one way or another. Trump is scheduled to meet with Tillerson on Wednesday, and it’s not outside the realm of possibility that the president may yet change his mind.

Even so, given Trump’s stated interest in promoting the development of domestic oil, gas, and coal, it is worth considering whether it would be better to have the world’s second-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases leave the Paris accords. Despite the negative effects that such an exit would have, it might be worse if the U.S. kept a “seat at the table”—a phrase Tillerson has been fond of using—only to try to weaken emissions targets, lobby for increased global use of natural gas (which the U.S. produces in abundance), or simply ignore the agreement altogether.

At this point, the reality is that the Trump administration has shown no interest in reducing America’s carbon emissions—either through international treaties or by abiding by policies put in place during the Obama era, such as the Clean Power Plan. So the country leaving the Paris accords could be seen as an international declaration of the course that Trump has already set domestically. And that course is going to be very costly for the climate.

If there is good news, it’s this: both Europe and China have pledged (paywall) to deepen their commitment to cutting emissions. China, which has emerged as a surprising global leader in developing clean energy and reducing carbon emissions, may in fact hope that Trump takes America out of the Paris accords, leaving it as the new head honcho in an area of foreign policy that increasingly looks like one of the defining issues of the 21st century.

(Read more: New York Times, Financial Times, Politico, “Exiting Paris Climate Accords Would Exact a Steep Global Cost”)

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