Will the US pull out of Paris?

In June, President Donald Trump came very close to saying the US would end its commitment to the Paris agreement, signed by 195 countries, which established ambitious goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions across the world in order to, it is hoped, reduce the effects of climate change.

But a newfound bipartisanship in Washington, which has seen Mr Trump on a couple occasions striking deals with leading Democratic lawmakers, has begun to signal a change in the nation’s capital, even if it leaves some rookie senators and representatives, who have never experienced the realization that the other guy might be right, completely bewildered, the New York Times reports. For example, there’s bipartisan movement in Washington to handle the dreamers who came to the US illegally under the protection of DACA.

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Officially, the president’s position on the Paris treaty has never been “set in stone,” a White House spokeswoman said yesterday in a statement. “There has been no change in the US’s position on the Paris agreement,” the Wall Street Journal quoted deputy press secretary Lindsay Walters as saying. “As the president has made abundantly clear, the US is withdrawing unless we can re-enter on terms that are more favorable to our country.”

But at a gathering of world leaders in Montréal, many were more optimistic about the exact position of the US. “We are pleased the US continues to engage and recognize the economic opportunity of clean growth, including clean energy,” said Canadian Environment Minister Catherine McKenna.

Mr Trump in June said he was ready to “begin negotiations to re-enter either the Paris accord or an—really entirely new transaction—on terms that are fair to the US, its businesses, its workers, its people, its taxpayers. So we’re getting out, but we will start to negotiate, and we will see if we can make a deal that’s fair. And if we can, that’s great. And if we can’t, that’s fine.”

Convincing the president, as leaders from China to Canada have tried, that clean energy would fit in well with the president’s “America first” approach is the key. But because the US is such a great emitter of greenhouse gases—it’s second in the world, behind China—other nations would undoubtedly follow suit if the US exited the agreement. And if that were to happen, because of how connected we all are, the ambitious goals established in Paris would fall apart.

But even if the agreement falls, greenhouse gas emissions will continue to decline. This movement is driven largely by economics. The US is simply taking advantage of an abundant supply of natural gas, which is cheap and plentiful (though still not renewable per se). It is gradually replacing coal, and the cost of transforming energy from renewable sources, such as the sun and wind, continues to go down.

As a result of the economic benefit, many states and cities in the US have taken the initiative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on their own, independent of the federal government. But such political activity has little effect on a global scale, given that we share the atmosphere.

About the Author

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.