Debates

The Journey Past Paris – American Withdrawal and Next Steps in Climate Action (Jean A. Garrison, 2017)

  • Paris represented a first step in a long-term commitment to make deep changes to how countries develop. The bottom-up approach brought countries to the table with individual commitments and meaningful reductions which set a positive baseline for negotiations in Paris. This structure allowed states the flexibility they needed to advance their national policies while overcoming differences that had stymied past agreements. Reviews every five years provided a structure to trust and verify each state’s promises for climate action. Thus, states found a way to sign on to an agreement that took practical win-win steps in climate action, while providing a road map for an ambitious climate agenda that could make more progress over time for societies such as the small island states on the front lines for climate impacts.
  • Paris signaled a collective shift in the discussion from the burdens of climate action to opportunities climate action offered to promote economic growth and to create jobs and prosperity. But for President Trump, the climate accord represented an unfair burden on the American economy while it gave emitters such as China and India a pass. In issue framing terms, the US withdrawal from the Paris Accord reflected the embrace of the old framing of climate action as a burden rather than emphasis on collective opportunities. However, American withdrawal from the Paris Agreement has not changed the collective opportunity baseline.
  • But for President Trump, the climate accord represented an unfair burden on the American economy while it gave emitters such as China and India a pass. In issue framing terms, the US withdrawal from the Paris Accord reflected the embrace of the old framing of climate action as a burden rather than emphasis on collective opportunities. However, American withdrawal from the Paris Agreement has not changed the collective opportunity baseline.
  • On the international level, the collective response to the US withdrawal illustrates just how isolated the US administration is on this issue. The immediate reaffirmation of the accords by EU states as well as China and India show that the Paris agenda is alive and well. President Trump has made the United States irrelevant to the effort it led two years before and the important role it played in putting it together. Countries such as China and India are poised to fill the leadership vacuum. The rejection of Paris also was a rejection of the multilateral agenda and a fundamental shift in approach to American foreign policy. This is about nationalism over globalism, and the triumph of domestic symbolic politics. This action also shows the president’s misunderstanding of the Paris model and ignorance to the mechanisms that allowed specifically for national responses to address climate action.
  • The broad coalition of support for climate action provides a solid basis to move Paris goals forward without the United States as a signatory. In fact, climate action in the United States is set to continue.
  • First, the US federal government leadership gap has been filled by subnational actors such as states and cities. California is the sixth leading economy in the world and has remained committed to the climate agenda. Further, mayors of cities within the United States and beyond remain committed to their climate action goals.
  • Second, Trump’s decision does not change the stance of the coalition of business groups supporting climate action. This coalition, including leading fossil fuel companies such as Exxon and Shell, see climate action as something to factor into their business plans. Similarly, utility companies will not change their trajectory to move away from coal and toward natural gas and renewables. They do this because customers expect it, investors expect sustainability, the technology has changed, and the economics support the shift to rely less on coal. These are the entities that will implement the policies that accomplish the goals of the Paris Accord.
  • The bottom line is that the broad coalition of actors promoting the Paris agenda remains in place. American withdrawal is a barrier, but key states remain committed to climate action and broad support from subnational actors, business, and civil society show the breadth of the transnational coalition agreeing on this action. Paris remains a baseline for future progress in climate action.