Many Urge Trump to Remain in Paris Agreement, Let’s Hope He Listens
Washington and Berlin – Climate change ranks at the top of transatlantic opinion leaders’ concerns, according to a Pew Research survey released at The German Marshall Fund’s Brussels Forum in March. Of those surveyed, 70 percent view global climate change as a major threat to their country. Given the level of concern from policymakers and publics on both sides of the Atlantic, addressing climate change needs to be a priority on the transatlantic agenda — but there are still efforts to cast doubt on the scientific validity of the findings and slow or halt action to reduce emissions.
The Trump administration is currently considering whether or not to remain in the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, which seeks to limit global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius, and given the grave risks, to strive for 1.5 degrees Celsius. Though the climate science cannot predict precisely what will occur and when, ocean levels are already rising and weather patterns are changing, with consequences for people’s food, water, security, and livelihoods. Withdrawing from the Paris Agreement would be detrimental to the transatlantic relationship and global efforts to combat climate change. It would also signal a weakening of the free world’s leadership on the single most critical issue for long-term international peace, security, and prosperity at a time when many doubt the resolve of the core Western democracies. Outright withdrawal would be a dangerous move for the United States at a pivotal time for climate action and the liberal international order.
Climate change competes with other pressing concerns for many citizens and policymakers right now. Growing economic pressure and a feeling of marginalization by large parts of the middle class as well as concerns about immigration, globalization, terrorism, and political polarization are foremost in many people’s minds.
Nevertheless, support for climate action remains widespread on both sides of the Atlantic. Marchers recently took to the streets to pressure President Trump and Republican Party leadership to acknowledge and pledge to do more to combat climate change in large demonstrations in Washington, DC on behalf of science and climate, with sister marches around the globe. ExxonMobil faces a lawsuit from U.S. state attorneys general for alleged fraud in deceiving the public about climate change for decades, and 14 attorneys general have urged President Trump to remain in the Paris Agreement. Moreover, “climate mayors” in the United States have pledged to continue to pursue the goals of the Paris Agreement regardless of what the Trump administration does, which has earned plaudits from the C-40 group of major cities.
Action on climate is at risk of faltering not just in the United States, but in Europe as well. The EU only received a “medium” rating for the efforts of most of its member states in the 2017 Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI). According to the report, “[w]hile many EU countries still show a good performance in the CCPI, national experts from several member states are concerned that the Union is giving up its leadership role in international climate protection.” Especially in Germany, the green movement is running into a dilemma as the pressure exerted against nuclear energy has brought back coal to supply the energy-hungry German export industry.
From the Age of Enlightenment onward, large swathes of civilization generally accepted the scientific method of evidence-based reasoning, experimentation, and observation as a means of understanding the workings of the universe. There have always been people who scoff at science and seek to undermine or cover up inconvenient scientific findings. They are arguably empowered by confusion among voters from recent proliferation of media types, the challenge of self-selecting social media echo chambers, and confirmation bias in general.
The leadership of the Republican Party has since the 1990s made climate change denial a litmus test for aspiring candidates, but this might be changing. Republican former secretaries James Baker III, Henry Paulson, and George Shultz are leading a group calling for a carbon tax, a market-based approach to capturing the real costs of carbon emissions. Seventeen House Republicans are calling for action on climate change. Moreover, the U.S. military does not have the luxury of ignoring facts and is already preparing for climate change contingencies, which could lead to awkward conversations with Republican Party officials who consider themselves strong on defense and friends of the military. Even ExxonMobil has acknowledged the latest climate science and has called for the United States to remain in the Paris Agreement.
Given the pending questions about years of willful deception on climate change, now is not the time to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, but rather to follow the lead of these voices, forge bipartisan consensus on the need to address the issue, and bring the best problem-solving ideas of both parties to bear on the greatest challenge that faces the so-called “millennial” generation and those that follow.
None of this is easy. Slowing global warming and addressing climate change is the biggest collective action challenge that humanity has ever faced. But withdrawing from the Paris Agreement would set the world back even further and raise still more questions about the role of the transatlantic community in leading the free world and carrying the Enlightenment principles into the future at a time when this is sadly in doubt.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.