The U.S. president is “Bush reloaded” with, unfortunately, even worse arguments.
History does not repeat itself. If it does, then it is as a grotesque. In the case of Donald Trump and U.S. environmental protections, it is a grotesque that could become a tragedy for Americans. The president of this world power is trying to make his country great again with fossil fuels. In so doing, he is leading his country into worldwide isolation, not only politically but also economically. One gets the impression the man is living on another planet.
Trump stages himself as the savior of his nation, a country allegedly threatened by an international climate treaty, the Paris Climate Agreement, which was adopted in 2015. The pattern is not new. Trump is “Bush reloaded” with, unfortunately, even worse arguments. His presidential predecessor, George W. Bush, demonstrated how one could jump out of an environmental protection train in motion. Bush then plainly explained that the Kyoto Protocol, which was also signed by the U.S., was contrary to the “American way of life” – and disallowed ratification in the U.S. Congress. The Paris precursor, which only bound industrialized nations to cut greenhouse gases, required a comparatively moderate reduction of carbon dioxide emissions. The American petroleum and coal industries balked at this, and Bush was their loyal agent.
The current president has a similar argument, only the world of energy has completely changed since Bush dropped out of Kyoto. Wind and solar energy have become so inexpensive that they now represent the job engine Trump is looking for, of all places, in the old coal mines and out-of-service coal power plants. Since 2013, the number of coal jobs in the U.S. has decreased from around 80,000 to 53,000; at the same time, the number of jobs in the renewable energy field has increased from 183,000 to 476,000. Nowhere else in the country are there more wind turbines being built than in the oil state of Texas, of all places, and many states, with California at the forefront, will not participate in Trump’s climate hara-kiri.
Public opinion in the U.S. has also turned. Not only the renewable energy sector, but also firms like Apple and Walmart, have called on Trump to not throw Paris in the trash – even the oil company Exxon, which against better judgement had long denied climate change, supports it. According to surveys, two-thirds of Americans come out in favor of staying in the agreement, and even three-quarters of Republican supporters call for promoting the renewable energy sector.
Either Trump didn’t notice or, alternatively, Trump’s radical strategy advisers from the far right, Stephen Bannon and Stephen Miller, succeeded in selling the Paris disaster as a liberating strike in the face of miserable popularity numbers and flops from health care reform and the Mexican border wall. A bad deal for the dealmaker, which will soon become apparent.
Naturally, Trump’s Paris exit is an affront to the rest of the world – including all 194 nations that signed the agreement, like the preceding Obama government. Now it appears as if the president has actually done something good for international environmental protection. One could almost be thankful to him. Trump’s half a year of continual Paris in-or-out games compelled the other big players in climate policy, above all China, as well as the other Group of Seven leading industrial nations and the EU, to position themselves in protection of the Paris Climate Agreement. Now, after the upheaval, the agreement is all the more valid. The worldwide indignation is huge. Even former U.S. brothers in the spirit of fossil fuels, like Australia or Russia, are turning away from Trump’s climate policies.
Now, however, it depends on whether deeds follow the avowals. How serious the Paris fans are after their “mega-outing” will be demonstrated at the Group of 20 leading rich and developing nations' June summit in Hamburg. Here, climate policy is a main topic and it might come to a hard confrontation between the other heads of state and Trump. It will also be crucial to see how the world community promotes the implementation of the Paris Climate Agreement at future climate summits.
Here, two areas need improvement: The carbon dioxide goals of the nations must be stepped up in order to still comply with the 1.5 to 2 degree warming limit. And the multi-billion dollar climate financing for developing nations must be ensured. Both are all the more urgent since Washington is withdrawing its support, and the other nations – at least for the time being – must make it their job.
Here it is an advantage that the U.S. will hardly be able to take part in climate conferences as a normal member any longer, given that a formal exit may take four years according to the conditions of the Paris Climate Agreement. The dropout U.S. now lacks the leverage to stall the negotiations as was long the case with Kyoto. It is not for nothing that the coal industry petitioned Trump to stay in the Paris Climate Agreement, to keep a foot in the door. Trump amputated this foot.