Unfazed by the many problems his presidency is facing, perhaps as a perverse way of fixing them, Donald Trump yesterday carried out one of the most serious threats he made as a candidate: to pull the United States out of the Paris Agreement on climate change. The decision can be explained as a favor to the most environmentally destructive corporate interests, especially the fossil fuel extraction industries. But it can also be explained as a heavy-handed attempt to manipulate the nationalism pervading certain sectors of U.S. society, decisive in Trump’s win in the election last November, and to whom the Republican president describes the country as being under the thumb of international agreements that are unjust and harmful to its economy.
The White House action, added to others involving the dismantling of the environmental policy of the Barack Obama administration, is disastrous, plain and simple, for the global environment. It will lead the world’s second most polluting country (after China) to spew into the atmosphere an amount of greenhouse gases – 3 billion tons of carbon dioxide – that will make it impossible to meet the goals set forth in the Paris Climate Agreement: limiting global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius by the end of the 21st century.
Just as serious, the U.S. decision could weaken the commitment of other governments to the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, setting an unheard-of precedent of egotism and short-term economic self-interest at the expense of minimal preservation of the environment. Trump’s allegations about the heavy financial and economic burdens imposed on the country by this international convention could encourage others not to meet their responsibilities with respect to the mitigation of environmental impacts; after all, the Paris Climate Agreement lacks mechanisms to compel the signatories to meet the obligations to which they committed.
For the time being, the European reaction, with the leaders of Germany, France and Italy at the forefront, has been a resounding rejection of the White House’s decision. Organizations such as the International Chamber of Commerce have also repudiated Trump’s decision. In the United States, popular demonstrations against leaving the Paris Climate Agreement were not long in coming, and statements of condemnation will no doubt rain down on the White House in the coming days. However, it is not very likely that simply shaming him will be enough to lead the Republican president to reverse his decision.
On the other hand, it is to be hoped that Trump will fail in his attempt to stir up U.S. nationalism with this action, and that the boards of the major business groups of our neighboring country realize that accelerating climate change can’t be good business in the long or medium term, and is suicide from the standpoint of their short-term interests.
In summary, it is desirable that this extraordinary example of ineptitude and egotism will be added to the many other factors eroding the property magnate’s presidency, and that it will accelerate the growth of discontent to the point of making it impossible for him to inflict new and greater injuries on the world.