One year ago this week, President Donald Trump announced his intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change. The president claimed that the Agreement was a bad deal for America. The reality is that his disavowal of the treaty is putting the United States increasingly at odds with the rest of the world and harming the American people.
Fundamentally, there is no reason this administration should want to rework the Paris deal. The Agreement did not impose undue burdens on the United States, as the president claimed, but allowed it and every other country to determine their own emission-reduction targets and create their own plans to increase ambition over time. All evidence suggests that the president was wrong in claiming that adhering to our target would hurt the U.S. economy and destroy jobs. He was also wrong in claiming that the Agreement allowed large developing countries like China to do nothing to cut their emissions until 2030. In reality, China has already made significant strides to decarbonize its economy and is on pace to achieve its Paris targets by 2030. Similarly, India now has some of the most ambitious renewable energy targets on Earth, and is on track to meet them.
Since the president’s announcement, this landmark pact aimed at tackling climate change has only gained traction. No other country is signaling it will follow the United States’ lead in withdrawing. Meanwhile, thousands of American businesses, cities, states and organizations are ramping up efforts in an attempt to help fill the gap.
Progress Toward Paris Agreement Builds Internationally
The international response to President Trump’s withdrawal announcement started even before it happened. Chinese President Xi declared in January 2017 that China would “fully honor its obligations” under the climate agreement, which he described as a “milestone in the history of climate governance.” Other leaders followed suit, calling the Agreement “an article of faith,” and their commitments steadfast and “unwavering.”
These responses built steady momentum to the G20 meeting last July in Hamburg, Germany, when the other 19 leaders declared the Paris Agreement “irreversible,” underscoring the world’s determination to move forward and isolating President Trump as a global outlier.
Other countries are very concerned about the consequences of climate change, and are taking major strides to address it. In just the past year, seven countries committed to phase out fossil fuel vehicles, more than 20 agreed to end their use of coal, and New Zealand and the UK announced plans to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, among other actions. It’s clear that the world remains determined to forge a lasting, fair agreement that can rise to the climate challenge.
Leaving the Paris Agreement Leaves US Behind
In the meantime, while the United States is marginalizing itself on climate and other international issues, China is more actively providing global development assistance – and, as a consequence, eroding U.S. influence around the world. Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson finally recognized this predicament, warning African countries last March that deals with China could threaten their sovereignty. Regardless of the merits of this claim, this concern went unheeded in the administration as President Trump fired Tillerson shortly after his return home.
The economic opportunities that the United States is losing out on by rejecting the Paris Agreement are enormous. The International Finance Corporation estimates that the Paris pledges from developing countries alone have opened up global investment opportunities worth $23 trillion. Another recent study argues that meeting the most ambitious targets under the Paris Agreement would save $20 trillion for the world economy by the end of the century.
Non-Federal Climate Action Ramps Up in the United States
Just as international actors are moving forward without the Trump administration, so too are an array of non-federal actors in the United States, many of whom have banded together to try to fulfill the U.S. climate pledge to the Paris Agreement. U.S. states, businesses, cities and others are signaling their support by joining We Are Still In, the U.S. Climate Alliance and the U.S. Climate Mayors. WRI and partners produced the America’s Pledge phase one report last November, showing that if these more than 2,700 non-federal actors were their own country, they would be the third-largest economy in the world, behind the United States and China. Individually, their actions continue to mount:
In January, Maryland became the 17th member of the U.S. Climate Alliance, with Republican Governor Hogan leading the state’s effort to develop a comprehensive plan to reduce emissions 40 percent by 2030.
States and cities continue to lead on renewable energy. The New Jersey legislature revised its Renewable Energy Standard last month to derive 50 percent of its power from wind and solar by 2030, with new efficient energy provisions expected to save residents $200 million a year. Michigan will likely have a ballot measure in November to increase renewables by 2030, while Connecticut just finalized a new comprehensive energy strategy that includes increasing renewable energy to 40 percent of its power by 2030. In Virginia, the number of solar jobs has increased by 65 percent in the last year alone, while expanded energy efficiency measures helped employ more than 75,000 people. Meanwhile, more than 65 U.S. cities have adopted 100 percent clean energy goals through the Ready for 100 initiative.
At the beginning of this year, Ford announced its plan to nearly double its investment in electric vehicles in the next five years. Its competitor, General Motors, plans to add 20 new battery electric and fuel cell vehicles to its portfolio by 2023.
Carbon pricing continues to deliver value and expand. The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a multi-state cap-and-trade program for reducing power plant emissions, generated $1.4 billion in net economic value from 2015 to 2017, and created more than 14,500 new jobs. Power plant CO2 emissions have dropped by half in the years since the program launched in RGGI states. New Jersey and Virginia are expected to join the initiative in the coming year.
America’s Pledge will release a new report this September at the Global Climate Action Summit in California, with analysis from WRI and other partners that will examine these and other recent developments to see what U.S. states, cities, businesses and others can do to help achieve the United States’ 2025 climate goal.
Everyone Needs to Step Up
According to the terms of the Paris Agreement, the earliest the United States can fully exit will be one day after the U.S. 2020 election. The president has suggested that the United States might stay in if he can renegotiate a better deal, but in reality, there can be no renegotiation: Unlike NAFTA, where the United States can force two parties back to the table, one country cannot compel more than 190 nations to rehash a deal that took many years to reach.
But while the United States remains in the Paris Agreement, it has, as WRI’s Distinguished Fellow and former U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern puts it, ceded its place as a “strong, leading, credible voice in the ongoing negotiations.” This is a shame given the role the country played in creating this Agreement.
While we wait for a new approach in U.S. federal leadership, every party—from the biggest U.S. state to the smallest city—needs to step up their game. At the same time, signatories to the Paris Agreement are quickly facing a deadline to enhance the ambition of their 2030 climate targets by 2020. A positive response to this call would definitively prove that President Trump cannot stop global progress on this issue by himself. Altogether, a determined U.S. effort, supported by an international community resolved to move forward, can lead the way.