Trump’s Unsurprising Rejection of the Paris Climate Agreement
The furor of the American left and European governments at President Trump’s announcement that he is abandoning the Paris climate agreement is puzzling. It’s not surprising that proponents of the accord are upset about the Trump position. What is surprising is that anyone thought it was likely he would abide by the agreement.
As a candidate, Trump was very clear on the campaign trail about his intention to scrap the agreement. The Republican platform in Cleveland last summer was explicit as well:
“We reject the agendas of both the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement, which represent only the personal commitments of their signatories; no such agreement can be binding upon the United States until it is submitted to and ratified by the Senate.”
While some are trying to argue that this is just the latest sign of a unilateral presidency intent on undermining the international order, the reality is that this outcome would have been likely under pretty much any Republican administration. Jeb Bush said prior to Paris that he probably wouldn’t even have attended because it would result in “policies that will hurt our economy.” Most of Trump's other Republican challengers, including Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz were staunch opponents.
There is some truth to the argument that views within the Republican Party are shifting on climate change, but Republican elites and those voters in Mr. Trump’s base remain firm skeptics of the types of restrictions outlined in the Paris accord, which is why there was significant support from the party apparatus after Mr. Trump’s decision and very little criticism. Indeed, Trump’s fulfillment of a campaign promise is likely to join his appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court in the party rank and file's perceptions of his successes.
The left’s hysteria about Trump’s action is only likely to help him within the Republican Party. Even prominent never-Trump Republicans urged Trump to follow through on this campaign promise. Democratic arguments about the cataclysmic impact of this decision are contradictory. The Obama administration trumpeted the supposed historic nature of the agreement, but its defenders now argue that the agreement was in fact so meaningless that Trump could have kept America in and done little to implement it. They advance arguments about the supposed space Trump’s decision creates for Chinese global leadership even though China remains a significant polluter. One day after Trump's announcement, the European Union and China couldn't even agree on a joint statement in support of the agreement.
Despite the reaction, President Trump handled this issue more diplomatically than similar decisions in the past. Despite his clear campaign statements, once elected, Trump was open to hearing opposing views. He waited months to make the final decision, even talking to key European leaders and discussing the issue with the Pope before making his final decision. Once he made his decision, he called key European leaders to outline his rationale. His top lieutenants have reinforced the administration’s commitment to lead on this issue. Secretary of State Tillerson noted that “I don’t think we’re going to change our ongoing efforts to reduce those emissions in the future."
In contrast, two months into his tenure, President George W. Bush withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol, before his first trip to Europe. The response at the time was similarly apocalyptic with the same predictions of American decline. As EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt noted, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s statement at the time of Bush's withdrawal from Kyoto was almost the exact same response as that of current Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Trump's opening to scrap the Paris agreement was created by President Obama’s decision to subvert the procedures of American democracy and to negotiate an agreement that was not a binding treaty. President Obama knew that there was not consensus in the United States on this issue and he decided to try to circumvent the opposition of Congress. Transatlantic debate about this issue would be best focused on discussing how to bridge the fundamental differences of opinion between many our citizens and finding an approach to tackling climate change that does not undermine the American economy rather than more incendiary rhetoric that only exacerbates the divide.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.