Image: AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein

At President Trumps’ behest, the US is joining Syria and Nicaragua in abdicating from the Paris Agreement, a coalition of 147 nations to combat climate change by reducing carbon emissions. While Trump faced heavy international pressure to remain within the agreement, from the Pope during his trip to the Vatican, China’s President Xi and European leaders during the G7 summit, the GOP overwhelmingly opposed Paris from the get-go. EPA head Scott Pruitt has long argued that the United States’ emissions reduction goal under Paris weakened the US economy.

“In order to fulfill my solemn duty to protect America and its citizens, the US will withdraw from the Paris climate acccord,” Trump said from the White House Rose Garden, promising to seek a “fairer” deal for the US. “We’re getting out.”

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Ironically (or intentionally) it will take four years for the US to fully withdraw from the Paris Agreement. The language of the agreement prevents countries from beginning the formal withdrawal process until 3 years after entering it. We entered Paris formally in November 2016, meaning the US isn’t eligible to withdraw until November 2019. From there, the withdrawal period takes a year: the earliest we could fully withdraw is November 2020, as the elections are wrapping up.

It’s important to note that the US was never bound by its voluntary emissions reduction goal under Paris. Trump was always free to ignore the US goal of reducing carbon emissions by 32% by 2030, but pulling out entirely sends a different message. Chiefly, that the Trump administration doesn’t value international collaborative efforts, nor the soft power of diplomacy, nor the future habitability of our biosphere so much.

Trump and Pruitt have consistently tied breaking from the Paris accord to restoring the economy, arguing that the US’s interests are paramount in international relations. Ironically, economists and environmentalists argue the pressure to decarbonize would help accelerate a boom in jobs in the clean energy field, including jobs in solar and wind, which have seen record gains in the past few years. In pursuing the economic opportunity of clean energy, the US’s and Paris Agreement’s interests have aligned. They differ now mainly because of this administration’s hardline deregulation stance.

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The international community has been quick to call out Trump for reneging on Paris and yielding its role in the global fight against manmade climate change. That Trump specifically is signaled out in many remarks condemning the decision, as opposed to the country as a whole, may actually be a silver lining.

“From all the people I’ve talked to in other countries, they see Trump as an aberration,” Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists, explained to Gizmodo, “They don’t think this represents US society as a whole.”

With the US stepping down as a global leader on climate change, there’s concern that other countries who joined reluctantly will be more likely to make a break, too. More optimistically, major developing economies are poised to rise up to leadership roles, most notably China and India, the world’s largest and third largest carbon emitters and, so far, the greatest success stories of the climate pact.

China has set global records for investment in solar panels and wind farms, and is even taking the initiative in retraining American coal miners as wind technicians. China may have already met its initial Paris goal, of peaking carbon emissions before 2030. Similarly, India is projecting an incredible 57% reliance on clean energy to power its grid by 2030. Researchers project that, should China and India exceed their goals, we may still see an overall decrease in global greenhouse gas emissions, even as the US pulls out and fails its target goals. That said, without the world’s second largest carbon emitter chipping in, it will undoubtedly be harder to achieve the Paris Agreement’s ultimate goal, of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius.

Rejoining Paris is a simple 30 day process and would largely depend on the political climate in November 2020. Meyer thinks the strongest case for rejoining will be from business leaders like Walmart, Apple and Intel arguing both the economic and environmental benefits in transitioning away from fossil fuels.

“Weighing in from the business community [might] have a bigger impact on Trump,” he said. “It certainly has been a factor in [the] decision making process that he didn’t expect to see. The US business community has made it clear they remain committed to the Paris Agreement and the goal of decarbonization of the economy.”