Trump Fails the World

Progress Namibia - Trump Fails the World
15 June 2017

Progress Namibia was asked to contribute to developing a civil society response from Namibia to Donald Trump pulling out of the Paris Agreement. This is what we put together:

President Trump kept to his unfortunate campaign promise on Thursday 1 June 2017 when he officially pulled the USA out of the Paris Agreement.

The USA steps over the fence to join only two countries in the world, war torn Syria, and Nicaragua, who never signed the Agreement because it felt its goals were not ambitious enough.

It had taken global leaders decades to finally agree on the Paris Agreement. With it, we might just be able to adapt. Without it, we are facing grave systems change. Many of the greatest cities and low lying islands would completely disappear. The climate disruption of important agricultural zones, in North and Central America, the Middle East, Africa and much of Asia, will present a security threat that could dwarf all others. These crises will be bigger than our ability to respond to them. They could lead to end of civilisations and the people they support. If this happens, we can turn the leaders of yesterday and today, and to ourselves, for the greatest crime ever committed. And as of last week, Trump and his cabinet are now among the leading criminals.

Trump's decision to pull out of the Agreement was based on economic arguments, and not scientific risk (which is indisputable). He made a few arguments supporting his decision, all of which can easily be discredited. One of his key arguments was that the Agreement 'disadvantages the United States, to the exclusive benefit of other countries, leaving American workers, who I love, and taxpayers to absorb the cost in terms of lost jobs, lower wages, shuttered factories and vastly diminished economic production'. While his words reflect what some American voters want to hear, they do not reflect the truth.

Let's look at the loss of jobs and the 'shackling of the American economy' first. Trump's vision of a buckling America, put down by burdensome energy restrictions that apparently cost the States as much as 2.7 million lost jobs by 2025, is based on a highly disputed study by the conservative consulting firm National Economic Research Associates. Firstly, the Paris Agreement is voluntary so in itself does not place restrictions. Secondly, and more importantly, renewable energy investments would bring in much more in terms of economic production and job gains. Already, solar power alone employs twice as many workers in the USA than coal, natural gas, and oil and petroleum combined. Adding in wind and nuclear, clean energy outpaces fossil fuel jobs by almost three-fold. In fact, the largest economic leaders in the US urged Trump to support the Agreement. Economic reasons for staying in the Agreement included strengthening competitiveness, creating jobs, markets and growth, and reducing business risks (e.g. along supply chains such as declining agricultural productivity and water supplies caused by climate change).

Then there is the argument that the United States is unequally and unfairly treated by the Agreement, with other countries benefiting directly from it. President Trump cites China as being able to carry on using coal for another 13 years, and India making its participation contingent on receiving billions of dollars in support from developed countries. His bottom line is that the Agreement is 'very unfair, at the highest level, to the United States'. His statement ignores the context in which these commitments were placed. The USA has contributed more than any other country to atmospheric carbon dioxide emissions. While China surpassed the US a decade ago, the US has been burning coal, oil and natural gas far longer. Today the United States, with just over 4% of the world's population, is responsible for almost a third of the carbon dioxide that is heating our planet, with China responsible for less than a sixth. At the individual level, the average American still emits double that of the Chinese citizen, double that of the citizen of Europe or Japan, and ten times that of the citizen of India. Recently, The New York Times asked climate modellers to assess when Americans would have run out of fossil fuel if the nation's population had somehow, at the beginning of the industrial era, been allocated a share (of global fossil fuel) equal to those of the rest of the world's people. The answer : 1944.

In fact, the Paris Agreement was considered such a breakthrough because it required all nations to curb their emissions, including India and China. Both China and India have reiterated their commitment to the Paris deal in recent weeks and are investing heavily in renewable energy. China has been reducing its coal consumption for the last three years and plans for over 100 new coal-fired power plants have been scrapped. India is also abstaining from the construction of new coal-fired plants and will likely meet its goal of generating 40% of its electricity from non-fossil fuels by 2022, eight years ahead of schedule. That they are investing in renewables with tens of millions of their people still without electricity and other basic services shows that it is not really that unfair to ask the world's richest nation to do the same.

Another argument put forth by Trump was the claim that even if the Agreement had been implemented in full, with total compliance from all nations, it would have only led to a 0.2 degree reduction, citing MIT research. This prompted an almost immediate rebuttal from the researchers at MIT, who pointed out this argument was completely false, and that emissions cuts promised in Paris would be 0.9 degrees by 2100, not 0.2. While this may not be what was hoped (2 degrees), it is still a significant reduction, which would translate into lives saved, food secured, coastal towns protected from inundation, among other effects. Significantly, such an act could set a precedent for much bigger commitments taken by nations in the future. More commitment and more decisiveness is vital. The argument that doing nothing is better than doing something small is moot.

A week prior to President Trump’s statement, leaders of the seven most powerful economies (the G-7) gathered around the table, trying to change Trump's mind. Additionally, many of the biggest businesses strongly supported the Paris Agreement. In fact, 25 big companies purchased an advertisement in a leading newspaper urging President Trump to stay in the Agreement, stating various economic reasons why. These companies included Intel, Microsoft, National Grid, Unilever, Levis Strauss, Morgan Stanley, Facebook, among others. Many others tried to convince Trump and failed. That all of these companies missed a significant economic motivation to pulling out of the agreement that only The White House was aware of seems unlikely.

And so, on 1 June, Trump declared his country was 'out'. His speech was so full of loopholes that we can only be led to believe that there are additional motives to bail out of the Agreement. Trump's closest advisors are climate deniers, many of whom have long histories of sponsorship by the fossil fuel movement. Unscrutinized relationships seem to have overcome the greater common good in this unfortunate turn of events.

Trump is focused on reviving the fossil fuel industry that has been organically dying for years now. His energy policy wants to put the technological revolution on hold, and ensure that the transition from fossil fuels to clean power is delayed for as long as possible. And the only winners in this equation are the coal executives (not the coal workers), the conservative leaders in Congress who are in opposition to any serious action aimed at the US reducing carbon emissions, and China, who no doubt will take advantage of the gap in leadership and emerge as a leader on green energy and technology.

The United States had doomed the Kyoto Protocol before. However, Trump's decision to pull out is unlikely to affect the Paris Agreement in a similar way. Firstly, leading nations have stepped up and reiterated their commitment to the Agreement. Secondly, many companies have stated their commitment for the Agreement: some 1400 institutions have rebuked their president on Tuesday 6 June, and this number is still growing. Trump famously said in his speech on 1 June "I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris", to which the Mayor of Pittsburgh immediately responded that "Pittsburgh stands with the world and will follow [the] Paris Agreement". And indeed, more than 200 cities and a dozen states that together represent the world's third largest economy have also committed to the Agreement through various coalitions. The stock market does not seem impressed either: clean energy shares hardly moved after Trump pulled out of the Agreement. The private sector will continue to run with the markets, heavily skewing towards renewable energy.

The most unfortunate part about Trump’s decision is its effect on countries like ours, who are wanting to develop sustainably and adapt to climate change, but who are now USD 2 billion short on making this happen. In pulling out of the Paris Agreement, Trump also pulled out of the US pledge of USD 3 billion toward the Green Climate Fund. This fund was set up to support developing countries in their climate mitigation strategies as well as in their adaptation strategies. Namibia is one of the first countries accessing money through this fund. The US was the largest contributor, at USD 3 billion, of which Obama had already submitted USD 1 billion (USD 500 million of which Obama signed over just before he stepped down). Trump's argument was that the US was "obligated to pay tens of billions", which is not true since these are voluntary contributions and America voluntarily pledged 3 billion, not tens. Even if the US had contributed its full pledge of 3 billion, the total would still be little less than USD 10 per American. Sweden is paying up to USD 60 per Swede, and many other countries are paying more per head than America. Either way, Trump pulling the remaining USD 2 billion out of the pledge means that the Fund now has a void that needs filling. Namibia, and many other countries who depend on this fund to push for transformative development policies that protect our life support system, can be sorely disappointed in Trump's decision to not pay its polluter debts.

The biggest loser, however, remains Trump and the American citizens backing him. Recent polling suggest that almost seventy percent of American nationals wanted to stay in the Agreement. They might concur with a statement by Georgia Democratic House candidate Jon Ossof: "I agree with our military, our intelligence community, and peer-reviewed science that climate change is a major threat to our prosperity and our security, and if we walk away from this historic Agreement now, history will condemn us". As for the rest of us, we will continue the good fight for a better life and planet for all.

Image Credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images