US Withdrawal from Paris Climate Agreement is Recipe for Global Isolation and Irrelevance

MAY 31, 2017

On Wednesday morning, major media outlets reported that the Trump Administration intends to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement on climate change. True to the chaos and incoherence that is the hallmark of this presidency, the news broke less than two hours after Mr. Trump tweeted that he would announce a decision on Paris “over the next few days.”

Immediate withdrawal from the Paris Agreement is not only bad for the climate, it violates international law. The overwhelming belief that climate action is urgent and necessary led to the Agreement’s rapid entry into force, thus it is now binding on all parties, including the US.

Withdrawing from the Paris Agreement will not stop people, businesses, US cities and states, and countries around the world from moving forward to address the climate threat. Other governments – including those of China and India – are already taking action to deliver on their commitments under Paris and have made clear that they will not follow the US in its withdrawal.

Despite his quixotic promises to the contrary, Mr. Trump’s decision to pull the US out of Paris will not save the coal industry, it will not save fossil fuels, and it will do nothing to create or save jobs. What it will do is slow our response to climate change at a time when we must be moving faster. And it will undermine the United States’ ability to negotiate and implement international agreements in good faith. Unilateral withdrawal by a president fundamentally damages the credibility of the United States as an international actor and its ability to conclude any deal with international partners, including on matters related to the economy and to national security, and signals to the world that no international commitment made by the US has a guaranteed lifespan of more than four years. This is a recipe for global isolation, irrelevance, and chaos.

Consistent with the Paris Agreement and the dictates of international law, any US withdrawal from the Agreement will take four years. As recent months have proven again and again, four years is a very long time. Donald Trump may abandon the Paris Agreement, but the people of the world, and a majority of American people and businesses will not. Trump may be out. The rest of us are still in. The future demands nothing less.