President Trump announced on June 1 that the United States will withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement. The agreement, signed by nearly 200 nations in December of 2015, “calls on countries to combat climate change and to accelerate and intensify the actions and investments needed for a sustainable low carbon future.”
In his speech following the announcement, President Trump said that the U.S. will withdraw, and “we will we start to negotiate and we will see if we can make a deal that’s fair.” The President feels that the agreement would have left American taxpayers “to absorb the cost in terms of lost jobs, lowered wages, shuttered factories, and vastly diminished economic production.”
Food Tank spoke with Carmel, Indiana, Mayor Jim Brainard, who expressed his primary worries about the U.S. exit from the accord. Brainard, a six-term Republican mayor who has long-supported U.S. commitment to the Paris Accord and other climate change mitigation strategies, says that U.S. withdrawal is the wrong step, and one that undermines the role America serves as a global leader in combating climate change.
“President Trump talks a lot about building a great country,” says Brainard. “Great countries take leadership positions…if we aspire to continue to be a great nation, we should not withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement.”
One common justification of the U.S. withdrawal is the agreement’s threat to jobs in the fossil fuel industry. According to Brainard, “we have more green jobs in this country today—between building materials and solar panels and batteries and hybrid cars—than we have jobs in the fossil fuel industry. If we really want to create jobs, we need to stay in [the Accord] and push as hard as we can to design and copyright and sell products that help clean up our environment.”
Brainard has been tackling climate issues in Carmel, Indiana, for years. He served as head of a task force at the U.S. Conference of Mayors in 2016, where 99 percent of more than 1,200 mayors present signed a climate protection agreement that put forth voluntary goals for city-level carbon reduction. “This should not be, and at the local level is not, a partisan issue,” says Brainard.
Under his leadership, Carmel replaced its streetlights with LED bulbs, to great cost savings for the town. “We’re getting over 20 percent return on investment annually through electricity savings,” says Brainard, who remains optimistic that the market will continue to drive climate change mitigation strategy. “The world is demanding products that are more efficient,” and he expects that demand will persist despite the U.S. withdrawal. Other sources suggest that the market will continue to “[push] utilities to switch from coal to natural gas or renewable power,” despite the withdrawal.
The international community met President Trump’s withdrawal announcement with criticism, as well. According to AP reporter Matthew Pennington, the withdrawal is “deepening perceptions of an America in retreat after recent reversals on free trade and foreign aid.” Former Secretary of State John Kerry has labeled the U.S. withdrawal “an irresponsible walking back of American leadership.” The withdrawal process put forth in the agreement could take nearly four years.
President Trump acknowledged a willingness to re-negotiate, expressing immediate willingness to “work with Democratic leaders to either negotiate our way back into Paris under the terms that are fair to the United States and its workers or to negotiate a new deal that protects our country and its taxpayers.” The Secretariat of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) “stands ready to engage in dialogue with the United States government regarding the implications of this announcement” but added that “the Paris Agreement remains a historic treaty signed by 194 and ratified by 147 countries,” and is one that “cannot be renegotiated based on the request of a single Party.”
A spokesman for the United Nations expressed that though the withdrawal is a major disappointment, “Secretary-General António Guterres remains confident that cities, States, and businesses within the US—along with other countries—will continue to demonstrate vision and leadership by working for the low-carbon, resilient economic growth that will create quality jobs and markets for 21st century prosperity.”
Some U.S. states, cities, universities, and private companies are already doing so, reassuring the world of the United States’ commitment to climate change reduction efforts. The New York Times reported that “representatives of American cities, states and companies are preparing to submit a plan to the United Nations pledging to meet the United States’ greenhouse gas emissions targets under the Paris climate accord, despite President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the agreement.” On-board, so far, are Governors of the states of Washington, New York, and California, the mayors of Los Angeles, Atlanta and Salt Lake City, 82 U.S. university presidents and chancellors, Hewlett-Packard, and Mars, among others.
According to the spokesman for Secretary-General Guterres, “committing to climate action means helping countries like Iraq and Somalia on the front line of extremism and terrorism. It means helping coastal communities from Louisiana to the Solomon Islands.”
Despite the withdrawal, “the Secretary-General looks forward to engaging with the American government and all actors in the United States and around the world to build the sustainable future on which our grandchildren depend.”