The Politics of Poverty

Ideas and analysis from Oxfam America's policy experts

It’s official: The US and the Paris Agreement on climate change are breaking up

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climate change US Paris Agreement breakup Photo: Pixabay.

Instead of walking away, the US should bridge borders and stand up for the right to a livable planet for all.

Some government decisions are hard. Whether to withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement on climate change isn’t one of them.

But that’s what the US government did today. It’s an indefensible, pointless, and morally bankrupt capitulation that will weaken the global effort to combat our climate crisis at the very moment we should be mounting our resources to rise to the challenge.

Simply put—it is the wrong thing to do, at the wrong time, and for the wrong reasons. And the next President should rejoin the agreement immediately to work with countries around the world to reduce greenhouse emissions and address climate impacts on the poorest and most vulnerable.

Why President Trump withdrew from the Paris Agreement

Although the president announced his intent to withdraw from the agreement in June 2017, he was legally unable to do so until now. November 4th was the first day that the US government could submit the necessary paperwork to formally notify the United Nations of its intended exit. Now, after a one-year waiting period elapses, the U.S. will leave the agreement in November 2020.

The president has long believed that the Paris Agreement is some nefarious globalist plot to handicap American competitiveness and empower rising economies like China and India.

He couldn’t be more wrong. Leaving the agreement will harm the US economy as American leadership retreats from a global technology market expected to value in the tens of trillions of dollars. This decision also empowers China on the world stage because the agreement was actually designed to hold it accountable for its climate commitments (even President Trump’s own State Department has admitted as much.)

Finding our footing

To be certain, President Trump’s move is a setback. The US spent decades negotiating the Paris Agreement. It bears our imprint, serving our interests by ensuring that climate change is confronted in a coordinated, global fashion.

More than ever, the world is awake to the growing perils of man-made climate change. Its impacts are increasingly inescapable in poor and rich countries alike, and an international activist movement is demanding that government take meaningful action to confront the problem—now. This move will no doubt handicap the global effort to speed assistance and aid to the world’s poorest, who are often the most vulnerable to droughts, floods, changing rainfall patterns, and rising temperatures.

While the Paris Agreement was not without its flaws—no consensus-based agreement negotiated by 197 parties and countries could ever be—it still represents our best and boldest tool with which to address climate change. Reneging on our commitment to the agreement also makes it much harder to strike such pacts in the future. The truth is that the agreement is our last and best chance to avoid the climate catastrophe our scientists tell us is on the horizon.

Increased climate activism across the US

Since the president’s first foolhardy announcement on his intentions to withdraw, we’ve seen a bloom of climate activism from states, cities, businesses, and community leaders who have joined in the “We Are Still In” effort to back the Paris Agreement. They represent 70 percent of our GDP and nearly 65 percent of the US population.

Over three-quarters—77 percent—of registered voters support the US remaining in the Paris. And just a few weeks ago, the growing youth-led global climate protests made waves. The September 20th “climate strike” was the largest-ever climate march in US history, drawing more than a million marchers in New York City alone and more than 7 million globally.

It’s likely the next President will be able to quickly re-join the Paris Agreement and rebuild our credibility on climate issues. It won’t be easy: the US will face a skeptical global community that has grown less trusting of US climate leadership over the prior four years.

While the clock is ticking, it hasn’t stopped yet.

Learn more about other issues on Oxfam’s Dignity for All agenda this election season and join our 2020 effort.

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