Thursday, June 01, 2017

Climate cheats

The big news today is that Donald Trump is about to withdraw the US from the Paris Climate accord:

Donald Trump is poised to withdraw from the Paris climate accord, according to multiple reports, in a move that would profoundly undermine the landmark agreement by nearly 200 countries to curtail global warming.

Trump tweeted late on Wednesday that he would announce his final decision at 3pm ET on Thursday in the White House rose garden. It followed a wave of reports that he was about to exit from the deal. The reports follow his refusal to express support for global efforts to combat climate change at a G7 summit with European leaders last week.

Should the US exit from the Paris agreement, which was negotiated and ratified under Barack Obama, the country would join only Syria and Nicaragua as non-participants. The US had previously committed to a goal of reducing carbon emissions by 26-28% by 2025.

What does this actually mean? For the Paris accord, not a lot I think. Domesticly, the US is cutting emissions for economic reasons rather than government policy, and that will likely continue. It will mean that the US won't do as much as it could, but unless Trump is re-elected, the effect on US emissions should be slight. Internationally, China and the EU have responded with an alliance to save the global climate. While unlikely to fully compensate for US inaction, it will help - and establish a new baseline for effort when the US comes to its senses.

The real effect will be on the US's international standing. Withdrawing from a major treaty sends a message that the US cannot be trusted to keep its word. And that will have consequences not just on climate change treaties, but on trade, arms control, intellectual property, and all of the myriad other issues the US relies on international agreements for. It also means the US's interests will be given less weight in negotiations - after all, why pander to them if they're just going to cheat anyway? And that will have a real cost for the US in the long term.

But hey, that's what happens when you elect a muppet as president.