The new American administration can have a chilling effect on climate negotiations.
When Donald Trump announces withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, the world cannot say it was not warned.
“He will pull out” of the climate agreement, according to a declaration Trump’s former adviser Myron Ebell made on Monday 30 January. The announcement is in line with the president’s campaign pledges, although he has recently softened his rhetoric on the issue.
Despite the obvious change of course on the federal level, optimists hope for a correction by some states and firms.
Twists and turns
During the campaign, Trump called, indeed, for “cancelling” the Paris Agreement ratified by President Barack Obama in September 2016. After the election, he admitted there is “some connectivity” between human activity and climate change.
But his recent steps foreshadow a U-turn in the U.S. climate policy.
He revived two controversial oil pipelines and suspended the activities of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Trump nominated for the latter’s administrator climate-change denier and Oklahoma’s attorney general Scott Pruitt, who is suing the very Agency in 14 cases.
Another climate sceptic was picked to head the Department of Energy. Former Texas governor Rick Perry actually requested the cancellation of the Department.
In this context, Trump’s nomination for the Secretary of State, former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, is actually not-so-bad news. The company of Tillerson, who himself wants the U.S. to keep “its seat at the table” of climate negotiations, was criticized by Ebell for being part of the “climate-industrial complex” supporting the Paris Agreement.
The optimistic view
However, Vrinda Manglik, Campaign Representative at the Sierra Club International Climate and Energy Program writes that “there is a good chance” Trump will not leave the Paris Agreement.
It would undermine US diplomatic credibility, she writes adding that the private sector has backed the Paris Agreement. Up to 365 corporations present in the US including Nike, Unilever and Starbucks called on Trump to adhere to the protocol. Manglik also counts on some states like California to continue developing their own climate plans regardless of the federal level.
European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič seems to hold a similar opinion.
“Judging by the communication, which I have had so far with the representatives of the current (Obama) administration, but also with the entrepreneurial sector, it is obvious that the interest in clean energy is very strong in the U.S.,” Šefčovič told EurActiv at the December SET Plan – Central European Energy Conference X. „I am convinced that when the new administration takes over, these voices will be very strong in the debate.“
Trump’s chilling effect
In any case, leaving the Paris Agreement does not happen overnight.
According to Article 28 of the Agreement, a party may ask for quitting the Agreement three years from the entry in force. It entered in force in November 2016, so Washington can make the request only in November 2019.
The actual pullout will only take place, however, one year after the request. That is at the very end of Trump’s mandate – in November 2020.
This scenario supposes Trump will respect America’s international commitments. In the other case, he can be formally part to the Agreement, but not implement it in reality.
The chilling effect is, actually, the most probable choice. The big question then is, how the rest of the world will react.