After Trump Decision, International Community Looks to Next Steps for Paris Climate Deal

8 June 2017

Following US President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw his country from the UN’s Paris Agreement on climate change, domestic and foreign leaders have pledged to ramp up their efforts to support the landmark accord.

During a widely publicised speech on Thursday 1 June, the American leader declared his plans to withdraw the US from the climate agreement. The country would also stop implementing its nationally determined contributions and end financial support for the Green Climate Fund, a UN climate finance project which aims to support developing countries in transitioning to low-carbon pathways and addressing the adverse impacts of climate change.

Trump explained the move by claiming that the "agreement is disadvantageous to the US to the exclusive benefits of other countries” and that it would “undermine the US economy and impose unacceptable legal risks.” However, despite withdrawing from the accord, he said that he plans to start “negotiations to re-enter the Paris accord or a new transaction on terms that are fair to the United States."

Domestic, international reactions

While the announcement had been widely expected, given Trump’s previous rhetoric on the campaign trail and earlier reports indicating that he was close to a decision, the move prompted swift reactions from stakeholders across the world – at sub-national, national, and international levels.

In a joint statement, the leaders of France, Germany, and Italy expressed regret over the decision and disagreed with Trump’s assertion that the climate deal can be redrafted, calling the momentum generated in Paris in December 2015 “irreversible.” The climate deal was adopted in the French capital city that year under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and signed by nearly all parties the following year.

The three leaders had been among those at the G7 summit in Taormina, Italy, late last month who had urged Trump to keep the US in the climate accord. (See Bridges Weekly, 1 June 2017)

For his part, French President Emmanuel Macron defined climate change as “the great challenge of our time” and said that “we all share the same responsibility: make our planet great again” – in language evocative of Trump’s own political slogan.

Leaders from Canada and China were among those who also expressed their disappointment over the decision, while at same time pledging their continued commitment to the Paris Agreement. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, for his part, said that his country would also “continue working… above and beyond the Paris accord,” according to comments reported by France 24.

However, the response from Russian President Vladimir Putin was relatively muted, with the leader telling a forum in St. Petersburg that there was still time and that he “wouldn’t start to condemn President Trump,” according to comments reported by ABC News.

In the US, reactions were split partially along party lines, with many Republicans praising Trump’s move. However, the withdrawal drew strong criticism from leading Democrats.

On Twitter, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan called the Paris Agreement a “raw deal for America” and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that Trump is reiterating “his commitment to protecting middle-class families.” Ryan is a Republican from the US state of Wisconsin, while McConnell is a Republican of the US state of Kentucky.

The news also drew a response from former President Barack Obama, who had championed the deal while in office. Obama expressed his confidence that “states, cities, and businesses will step up and do even more to lead the way.”

Following Trump’s announcement, more than 200 mayors from US cities accounting for some 56 million Americans pledged to honour the commitments to the goals enshrined in the Paris Agreement. In addition, the governors of New York, California, and Washington announced the formation of the US Climate Alliance, a coalition that will convene US states committed to upholding the Paris Agreement. As of 5 June, 12 states and Puerto Rico have joined the alliance.

From the business world, dozens of executives also voiced their concern over the consequences for the climate and US economy. Some of the largest US businesses, such as Apple, Facebook, or Google, joined over 1,000 governors, mayors, and university presidents in calling for continued support for climate action.

The effort is led in part by former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire philanthropist who is also a special UN envoy for cities and climate change. He has also pledged through Bloomberg Philanthropies to donate US$15 million to help address the “significant funding gap” that Trump’s decision would create for the UNFCCC Secretariat.

The response of various business and sub-national actors was received warmly by other signatories to the Paris Agreement, such as Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, who said that she is “moved and enthused that so many states and enterprises in the United States of America want to travel this path with us – we will travel it together.”

What’s next

White House officials say that the withdrawal means that Washington will cease to implement its commitments under the accord. The Paris Agreement had been ratified via executive action under Obama’s tenure, and at the time the North American nation had pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions in line with its intended nationally determined contribution.

As there is no legal enforcement mechanism enshrined in the agreement, the US can stop implementing its nationally determined contributions anytime, and Trump affirmed last week that this would occur immediately.

However, the US will not be able to leave the accord for another few years. The agreement, signed by all UN member states except Nicaragua and Syria, stipulates that a party can withdraw from it with a one-year notice, which can be provided three years after the date the Paris Agreement came into force for that party.

This means that Washington will only be able to exit the agreement in November 2020 – the same month as the next US presidential election.

Regarding Nicaragua, it chose not to sign the accord out of concerns that the Paris Agreement did not reach far enough, given its non-binding nature. Syria, for its part, was not involved in the UNFCCC negotiations which led to the deal.

Responding to Trump’s statement to start new negotiations to re-enter the Paris agreement – or reach some other arrangement that would be more amenable to the US administration’s interests – the UNFCCC Secretariat said last week that it “stands ready to engage in dialogue with the United States government regarding the implications of this announcement.”

“The Paris Agreement remains a historic treaty signed by 195 parties and ratified by 146 countries plus the European Union. Therefore, it cannot be renegotiated based on the request of a single party,” added the UNFCCC Secretariat.

While the US is leaving the Paris Agreement, it still remains part of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Even though some commentators speculated prior to Trump’s decision that the US might leave the UNFCCC, which would have allowed it to exit the Paris accord within one year, the US administration decided to remain a party.

The motivations behind this move were not immediately made clear, though reports prior to Trump’s decision suggested that some cabinet members were in favour of remaining at the UNFCCC in order to keep a seat at the negotiating table. The US will remain a party to the annual UN climate change conferences – leaving open the question of how Washington may approach the annual climate talks slated for this November in Bonn, Germany.

Apart from the formal UN climate negotiation process, the move has also fuelled speculation over how Trump’s decision might also affect other international summits. At the upcoming G20 leaders’ meeting, taking place in Hamburg, Germany between 7-8 July, the planned US departure from the Paris Agreement is likely to become a major topic on the agenda – especially since the German hosts have made climate change one of the priorities of their G20 presidency.

Some political leaders have also noted that the climate decision could have implications for foreign policy priorities in other areas, including on trade. Martin Schulz, the German politician currently challenging Merkel for the chancellorship, said at an event in Berlin that Trump’s decision to leave the Paris Agreement might have negative consequences for future EU-US trade negotiations. “The European market would protect itself against American production sites that do not abide by the climate goals,” he said, according to comments reported by Politico.

Meanwhile, some analysts have also been looking at other trade implications or options that countries could consider going forward, in light of the Trump decision.

ICTSD reporting; “Schulz to Trump: Dropping Paris agreement means no trade talks,” POLITICO, 1 June 2017; “Bush kills global warming treaty,” THE GUARDIAN, 29 March 2001; “India will go ‘above and beyond’ Paris accord, Modi tells Macron, FRANCE24, 3 June 2017; “Putin on Trump’s withdrawal from Paris Accord: ‘Don’t worry, be happy’,” ABC NEWS, 2 June 2017; “Climate change: Why isn’t Nicaragua in the Paris agreement?” BBC NEWS, 3 June 2017.

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