What Australian states can learn from Trump dismantling climate change policy



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President Trump is challenging the US states’ right to set their own emissions targets.
Photo by John-Mark Smith on Unsplash

Sarah Graham, University of Sydney

The Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement was greeted with dismay around the world. Less well known, but probably just as damaging to emissions reductions, was freezing standards for carbon dioxide emissions from cars in July.




Read more:
Why Trump’s decision to leave Paris accord hurts the US and the world


The erosion of US federal climate policy has made action from individual states far more important. As Australia grapples with yet another failure to implement a national emissions policy, what can we learn from America?

And is it time for Australian states to reach out directly to like-minded states in other parts of the world to tackle global climate issues?




Read more:
Malcolm Turnbull shelves emissions reduction target as leadership speculation mounts


Strong state action

From the outside, the US often looks like a bastion of climate change denial and very large cars, but a group of US states has nevertheless made some of the most dramatic progress in curbing emissions of any jurisdictions in the world.

Consider New Jersey. In 1998, while the Kyoto Protocol was being negotiated (and ultimately rejected by George W. Bush), Governor Christine Whitman ordered that the state pursue an emissions target of 3.5% below 1990 levels by 2005.

Since then, New Jersey has consistently adopted emissions reduction targets in line with global agreements, effectively bypassing the weaker standards at the federal level. Several other, mostly Democrat, states across the nation took similar action during the Bush administration, placing caps on emissions from power generation, establishing internal carbon trading systems, and adopting ambitious state emissions targets.




Read more:
The Trump administration, slanted science and the environment: 4 essential reads


California’s regulation of air quality goes back even further. In response to Los Angeles’ smog problem – arising from a confluence of geographical conditions, warm weather, and high automobile use – Sacramento introduced smog restrictions on automobiles in 1960. This predated both the establishment of the US Environmental Protection Agency and any meaningful federal effort to regulate air quality or car pollution. In 1970, when President Nixon established the EPA and Congress gave teeth to the Clean Air Act, California was granted special waivers to adopt stricter anti-smog measures. The state has done so ever since.

Under Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and as part of a much broader climate change initiative, reduction targets for CO₂ emissions from automobiles were added to the existing anti-smog rules. By this time, a number of states were also following California’s more stringent standards. These included states bordering California where auto dealers wished to sell California-compliant cars, but also East Coast progressive states pursuing ambitious climate change plans of their own.

Australian states

Australia is not in exactly the same position as the the US – for example, we are virtually unique in the developed world for having no fuel efficiency standards for cars – but there are some striking similarities.




Read more:
Emissions standards on cars will save Australians billions of dollars, and help meet our climate targets


The policy deadlock at the federal level has made action from states, and even local councils, vitally important.

At the same time as the federal government is struggling to put emissions reduction on the national agenda, Victoria has made a huge commitment to rooftop solar. South Australia, which leads the country in renewable energy generation, is now a net energy exporter for the first time.

While the Queensland state government grapples over the Adani coal mine, a May report found that billions of dollars in renewable energy projects are underway.

The Trump effect

The Trump administration is widely expected to repeal many Obama-era limits on pollution. Auto emissions standards came onto the chopping-block in July, when the administration unveiled its plan to “Make Cars Great Again” by freezing fuel efficiency standards at 37 miles per gallon.

The EPA has also announced that it will revoke California’s waiver to set more stringent standards, which 13 other states including New York now also follow.

In both cases, the Trump administration is seeking not just to relax federal climate standards, but to prevent states from setting more stringent policies should they wish to. And in both cases, these matters will be settled by the courts.

California announced it would lead a legal challenge to protect the waiver on the same day as the administration announced it would revoke it. When the EPA moves to repeal the Clean Power Plan, the same set of states will likely sue to protect it.

Why this matters globally

These legal fights have global ramifications. The 13 states that follow California’s waiver have a population of 130 million. These states have pledged, through auto emissions standards and clean energy targets, to meet the Paris Climate goals – using their own policy autonomy to circumvent Trump’s withdrawal.

These states have also pledged to pursue independent diplomacy with other national and sub-national jurisdictions around the world, sharing best practise and pursuing climate cooperation.

The EPA has so far lost a number of legal challenges, and is by no means guaranteed to win its case against California. Should these states prevail, Australia has an opportunity to pursue meaningful climate diplomacy directly with the American states.




Read more:
I’m suing Scott Pruitt’s broken EPA – here’s how to fix it


A 130 million-person market for sustainable technologies also presents a substantial opportunity for Australian businesses in the renewables sector.

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The Conversation

American states have a framework in place for international partnerships on climate. State governors and city mayors across the country are eager to brand themselves as international climate change leaders. As Australian federal politics grinds through another round of energy policy and climate change debate, it might be time for Australian states to look outside our borders for inspiration and co-operation.

Sarah Graham, Honorary Associate, University of Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Trump’s plan to dismantle national monuments comes with steep cultural and ecological costs



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The Trump administration will review the status of The Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, one of the country’s most significant cultural sites.
Bureau of Land Management, CC BY

Michelle Bryan, The University of Montana; Monte Mills, The University of Montana, and Sandra B. Zellmer, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

In the few days since President Trump issued his Executive Order on National Monuments, many legal scholars have questioned the legality of his actions under the Antiquities Act. Indeed, if the president attempts to revoke or downsize a monument designation, such actions would be on shaky, if any, legal ground.

But beyond President Trump’s dubious reading of the Antiquities Act, his threats also implicate a suite of other cultural and ecological laws implemented within our national monuments.

By opening a Department of Interior review of all large-scale monuments designated since 1996, Trump places at risk two decades’ worth of financial and human investment in areas such as endangered species protection, ecosystem health, recognition of tribal interests and historical protection.

Why size matters

Trump’s order suggests that larger-scale monuments such as Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, or the Missouri River Breaks National Monument in Montana, run afoul of the Antiquities Act because of their size. Nothing is farther from the truth. The act gives presidents discretion to protect landmarks and “objects of historic or scientific interest” located within federal lands. Designations are not limited to a particular acreage, but rather to “the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected.”

Thus, the size and geographic range of the protected resources dictate the scale of the designation. We would not be properly managing the Grand Canyon by preserving a foot-wide cross-section of its topography in a museum.

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the validity of larger-scale monuments when it affirmed President Teddy Roosevelt’s 1908 designation of the Grand Canyon as “the greatest eroded canyon in the United States” in Cameron v. U.S. in 1920. Cameron, an Arizona prospector-politician, had filed thousands of baseless mining claims within the canyon and on its rim, including the scenic Bright Angel Trail, where he erected a gate and exacted an entrance fee. He challenged Roosevelt’s sweeping designation and lost, spectacularly, because the Grand Canyon’s grandeur was precisely what made it worthy of protection.

By downsizing or dismantling a monument, Trump would be intentionally unprotecting the larger-scale resources our nation has been managing as national treasures. The loss in value would be considerable, and compounded doubly by the lost cultural and ecological progress we have made under related laws.

Cultural costs of downsizing

The Antiquities Act has long been used to protect important archaeological resources. Some of the earliest designations, like El Morro and Chaco Canyon in New Mexico, protected prehistoric rock art and ruins as part of the nation’s scientific record. This protection has been particularly critical in the Southwest, where looting and pot hunting remain a significant threat. Similar interests drove the creation of several monuments subject to Trump’s order, including Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Canyon of the Ancients National Monument and Bears Ears National Monument. Thus, any changes to those monuments mean less protection for – and less opportunity to learn from – these archaeological wonders.

But we have learned that our past and our natural world are not merely matters for scientific inquiry to be explained by professors through lectures and field studies. Instead, scientists, archaeologists and federal land managers recognize the need to understand and foster continuing cultural connection between indigenous people and the areas where they and their ancestors have lived, worshipped, hunted and gathered since time immemorial. Many of these places are on federal lands.

While other recent designations recognized the present-day use of monument areas by tribes and their members, Bears Ears National Monument was the first to specifically protect both historic and prehistoric cultural resources and the ongoing cultural value of the area to present-day tribes. Unlike prior monuments, Bears Ears came at the initiative of tribal people, led by a unique inter-tribal coalition that brought together many area residents and garnered support from over 30 tribes nationwide. This coalition also sought collaborative tribal-federal management as a way to meaningfully invigorate cultural protection. As a result, President Obama also established the Bears Ears Commission, an advisory group of elected tribal members with whom federal managers must meaningfully engage in managing the monument.

This national investment in cultural collaboration brings great value – a value utterly ignored by Trump’s order. In fact, under that order, Bears Ears faces an expedited (45-day) review because, as Secretary Ryan Zinke noted in a recent press conference, it is “the most current one.” Though the order includes opportunity for tribal input, the Bears Ears inter-tribal coalition has yet to hear from Secretary Zinke, notwithstanding numerous requests to meet.

Ecological costs of downsizing

Because they preclude development, national monuments are also critically important for ecological protection. In fact, they often serve the objectives of other federal requirements, such as the Endangered Species Act.

For example, Devils Hole National Monument provides the only known habitat for the endangered Devils Hole Pupfish (Cyprinodon diabolis). This has meant that groundwater exploitation from nearby development is restricted to protect Pupfish habitat. Similarly, the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is home to an array of imperiled wildlife, including the endangered desert tortoise and the endangered California condor, along with many other native species like desert bighorn sheep and peregrine falcons.

The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is among the national monuments vital to enforcing the Endangered Species Act.
Bureau of Land Management

Within the protective reach of a national monument, we are also likely to find important stretches of land officially designated by federal agencies as protected land, such as scenic wilderness, wilderness study areas, the Bureau of Land Management’s areas of critical environmental concern (ACEC) or the Forest Service’s research natural areas (RNAs). Each monument’s care is thus interwoven with the management of these other ecologically designated areas, something plainly apparent to the communities and agency officials long working with these lands.

Zinke’s backyard

These costs may hit close to home for Zinke since the Missouri River Breaks National Monument, located in his home state of Montana, is on the chopping block. President Clinton designated this 375,000-acre monument in 2001 to protect its biological, geological and historical wealth from the pressures of grazing and oil and gas extraction. Clinton noted that “[t]he area has remained largely unchanged in the nearly 200 years since Meriwether Lewis and William Clark traveled through it on their epic journey.”

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke will need to assess the cultural and ecological value of a national monument in his home state of Montana.
CC BY-SA

The monument contains a National Wild and Scenic River corridor and segments of the Lewis and Clark and Nez Perce National Historic Trails, as well as the Cow Creek Island ACEC. It is the “fertile crescent” for hundreds of iconic game species and provides essential winter range for sage grouse (carefully managed to avoid listing under the ESA) and spawning habitat for the endangered pallid sturgeon. Archaeological and historical sites also abound, including teepee rings, historic trails and lookout sites of Meriwether Lewis.

The size of the Missouri River Breaks monument is thus scaled to protect an area in which lie valuable objects and geographic features, and a historic – even monumental – journey took place. And every investment we make in the monument yields a twofold return as it supports our nation’s cultural and ecological obligations under related federal laws.

The ConversationAt the end of the day, while Trump’s order trumpets the possibility that monument downsizing will usher in economic growth, it makes no mention of the extraordinary economic, scientific and cultural investments we have made in those monuments over the years. Unless these losses are considered in the calculus, our nation has not truly engaged in a meaningful assessment of the costs of second-guessing our past presidents.

Michelle Bryan, Professor of Law, The University of Montana; Monte Mills, Assistant Professor of Law & Co-Director, Margery Hunter Brown Indian Law Clinic, The University of Montana, and Sandra B. Zellmer, Professor of Law, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Trump’s Paris Retreat is Beijing’s Opportunity



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The Chinese hoax.

Clive Hamilton, Charles Sturt University

One of China’s foremost environmental analysts recently explained to me that while for many years climate change was characterized as a western conspiracy to hold China back, it all changed around 2012. Overcoming China’s testiness about western imperialist designs and bringing China into the international climate tent may in future be seen as one of President Obama’s lasting legacies.

When President Xi Jinping took charge in late 2012 he soon launched an ‘energy revolution’. He took up the call for an ‘ecological civilization’ and sent a message that coal would no longer be favoured.

Provincial governments, which had resisted Beijing’s dictats to reduce coal use, began to be brought into line. As Xi accumulated more power, by marginalizing his enemies or having them arrested for corruption, it became increasingly risky to mess with Beijing. But the provinces too are shifting away from their GDP obsession to a greater emphasis on quality of life.

The first phase of China’s national carbon market is expected to get under way this year. The Paris agreement and Xi’s constructive role in it greatly enhanced the influence of China’s environment ministry in bureaucratic tussles. Paris is now a powerful card to play, and incorporating environmental governance into policy has become the ‘new normal’.

Coal use has now topped out in China, and total emissions are expected to peak around 2022-23, well ahead of the committed date of 2030 under the Paris Agreement. Unlike the United States, China takes its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution under the Paris accord very seriously.

China’s carbon cuts

Beijing has a number of motives for taking an aggressive approach to carbon emissions. The headline one is social discontent due to appalling air pollution in the cities. Instead of closing coal-fired power stations, pollution levels could have been cut sharply by fitting scrubbers to them (as is done in the west), leaving carbon emissions untouched. But there are other reasons for cutting coal consumption.

One is to undermine the power base of some of the most corrupt officials in the country, the bosses of the coal and electricity sectors. Unlike most of China’s leaders, Xi is no a technocrat, which helps.

Beyond these domestic goals, the Party’s leadership can see a larger global dimension. Hastening China’s transition to low-carbon energy promises to give China ascendancy in the emerging renewable energy industries, industries set for massive expansion over the next decades as coal and oil combustion declines. Vast opportunities are available for the nation that manages to take the lead, and China is well on the way to doing so.

This is why Trump’s decision is not just a serious set-back to global efforts to limit emissions but also damages US economic prospects. When US companies find they must go to China to buy their energy generation equipment they will understand that ‘America first’ means America loses. Some of them can see it already.

A new world leader

At the highest level of strategy, Trump’s decision to ditch the Paris agreement presents Beijing with a golden opportunity to take on the mantle of global leadership. China has been slowly and systematically pursuing that role over some years by, for example, expanding its role in UN peace-keeping efforts.

And it has been presenting itself as the new champion of global economic integration. President Xi’s speech at Davos in January, where he condemned protectionism and lauded the benefits of free trade and investment flows, was timed to contrast with the Trumpian retreat.

The United States abandonment of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which through more trade and investment would have strengthened US ties to East and Southeast Asia, left a hole for China to step into. The grand One Belt, One Road initiative is a pitch for global economic leadership that will grow as the United States shrinks into itself.

Climate change presents China with the opportunity to acquire new legitimacy and respect as a world leader, offsetting the damage from its aggression in the South China Sea and escalating repression at home.

Some analysts say that China is not yet ready to become the global leader, and displays a certain reluctance to seize the mantle. But faced with indecision and disorder in the west the Party leadership has often had to decide to grab a chance while it is there, or bide its time and take the risk that it will be much harder later.

The ConversationUS withdrawal from global climate change leadership may be too good an opportunity to let pass. And there could be no better way for Beijing to demonstrate its claimed commitment to a peaceful and prosperous world than by directing the billions of dollars promised under the One Belt, One Road Initiative into low-carbon energy systems in developing countries. Developed countries too may find the lure of Chinese lucre too strong to resist and end up with energy infrastructures stamped ‘Made in China’.

Clive Hamilton, Professor of Public Ethics, Centre For Applied Philosophy & Public Ethics (CAPPE), Charles Sturt University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

15th-century Chinese sailors have a lesson for Trump about climate policy


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Disruptive technology, Ming Dynasty-style.
Vmenkov/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

Dave Frame, Victoria University of Wellington

In the early 15th century the Ming Dynasty in China undertook a series of expensive oceangoing expeditions called the Treasure Voyages. Despite the voyages’ success, elements of the elite opposed them. “These voyages are bad, very bad,” we can imagine them tweeting. “They are a bad deal for China.” Eventually these inward-looking, isolationist leaders gained enough power to prevent future voyages.

But this was an own goal. The parochial elites who killed off the Treasure Voyages could stop Chinese maritime innovation, but they could do nothing to prevent it elsewhere. Decades later, European sailors mastered the art of sailing vast distances across the ocean, and created fortunes and empires on the back of that technology (for better or worse). It is hard to see how China’s strategic interests were served by abandoning a field in which they led.

There are some striking parallels in the Trump administration’s decision to renege on the Paris climate agreement. It has been cast as a move to protect America, but in the long run it won’t derail the world’s transition to a low-carbon economy, and instead the US will find itself lagging, not leading.

Trump’s repudiation of the Paris deal is regrettable for at least three reasons. First, because the US is a technological leader whose entrepreneurs are extremely well placed to lead the global low-carbon transition; second, because America’s abdication of climate leadership weakens the global order and sends a wink and a nod to other fossil-fuelled recalcitrants like Saudi Arabia and Russia; and finally because having the world’s second-highest emitter outside the agreement is a clear negative.

That said, US flip-flopping on climate is nothing new. The nation played a strong role in shaping the Kyoto Protocol, only to fail to ratify it. And while that did not help matters, it did not derail international efforts to combat climate change. In fact, the momentum behind climate-friendly initiatives has grown several-fold since the early 2000s.

Viewed in the long run, the latest US defection changes little. Any conceivable future Democrat administration will rejoin the Paris Agreement. But more importantly, the transition to a low-carbon future is not dependent on the actions of a single player.

The criteria for successful climate change policy are hard to achieve but easy to describe: success will come when non-emitting technologies economically outcompete fossil fuels, pretty much everywhere in the world, in the main half-dozen or so sectors that matter.

Beating the ‘free-rider’ issue

A stable climate is what we call a “public good”, similar to fresh air or clean water. The US political scientist Scott Barrett has pointed out that climate change is an “aggregate efforts public good”, in the sense that everybody has to chip in to solve the problem of safeguarding the climate for everyone.

“Aggregate efforts” public goods are especially hard to preserve, because there is a strong incentive to free-ride on the efforts of others, as the US now seeks to do.

But technology can transform this situation, turning an aggregate efforts public good into a “best-shot public good”. This is a situation in which one player playing well can determine the whole outcome, and as such is a much easier problem to solve.

We have seen technology play this role before, in other global environmental issues. The ozone hole looked like a hard problem, but became an easy one once an inexpensive, effective technological fix became available in the form of other gases to use in place of ozone-harming CFCs (ironically, however, the solution exacerbated global warming).

Something similar happened with acid rain, caused by a handful of industrial pollutants. Dealing with carbon dioxide emissions is harder in view of the number of sources, but breakthroughs in five or six sectors could make a massive dent in emissions.

Technology trumps politics

This suggests that solving climate change relies far more heavily on technological innovation and successful entrepreneurship than it does on any single government. Policies in specific jurisdictions can speed climate policy up or slow it down, but as long as no single government can kill the spirit of entrepreneurship, then no country’s actions can alter the long-run outcome.

This is why German climatologist John Schellnhuber is right to say that “if the US really chooses to leave the Paris agreement, the world will move on with building a clean and secure future”.

The low-carbon race is still on, and the main effect of Trump’s decision is to put US innovators at a disadvantage relative to their international competitors.

We have seen these technological races before, and we have seen what recalcitrance and isolationism can do. Just ask the Ming Dynasty, who ceded their maritime leadership and in doing so let Europe reap the spoils of colonialism for half a millennium.

Similarly, the Trump administration can ignore basic physics if it likes, although this is electorally unsustainable – young Americans can see that it is in their own interest to support climate policy. Democracies are imperfect, but over time they have the ability to self-correct.

The ConversationDeveloping polices that regulate the release of environmentally damaging gases is important. Pricing carbon is important. But government policy is not everything. Ultimately, this problem will be solved mainly by technology, because the way out of the jam is by finding new, inexpensive ways for humans to flourish without harming the planet.

Dave Frame, Professor of Climate Change, Victoria University of Wellington

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Time for China and Europe to lead, as Trump dumps the Paris climate deal


Christian Downie, Australian National University

President Donald Trump’s announcement overnight that he will withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement comes as no surprise. After all, this is the man who famously claimed that climate change was a hoax created by the Chinese.

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While it will take around four years for the US to withdraw, the prospect is complicated by Trump’s claim that he wants to renegotiate the agreement – a proposal that European leaders were quick to dismiss. But the question now is who will lead global climate action in the US’ absence?

As I have previously argued on The Conversation, there are good reasons for China and Europe to come together and form a powerful bloc to lead international efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

China is now the world’s number-one energy consumer and greenhouse gas emitter, and should it combine forces with Europe it has the potential to lead the world and prevent other nations from following the US down the path of inaction.

There are very early signs that this may be happening. Reports this week indicate that Beijing and Brussels have already agreed on measures to accelerate action on climate change, in line with Paris climate agreement.

According to a statement to be released today, China and Europe have agreed to forge ahead and lead a clean energy transition.

While it is too early to predict how Chinese and European leadership will manifest in practice, in the face of American obstruction they are arguably the world’s best hope, if not its only hope.

Decades of destruction

Trump’s announcement only reaffirms his antipathy towards climate action, and that of his Republican Party, which for decades has led attempts to scuttle efforts to reduce emissions at home and abroad. Let’s not forget that it was President George W. Bush who walked away from the Kyoto Protocol.

In just the few short months of his incumbency so far, Trump has halted a series of initiatives executed by President Barack Obama to address climate change. These include taking steps to:

  • Repeal the clean power plan

  • Lift the freeze on new coal leases on federal lands

  • End restrictions on oil drilling in Arctic waters

  • Reverse the previous decision against the Keystone XL pipeline

  • Review marine sanctuaries for possible oil and natural gas drilling.

And the list goes on.

This remains the real problem, regardless of whether the US is inside the Paris climate agreement or outside it. As the planet’s second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, what the US does domestically on climate change matters a great deal.

As a result, if China and Europe are to lead the world in the US’ absence, not only will they have to ensure that other nations, such as Australia, do not follow the US – and some members of the government hope they do – but they are also going to have to think creatively about measures that could force the US to act differently at home. For example, some leaders have already mooted introducing a carbon tax on US imports, though such proposals remain complicated.

In the meantime, while these political battles play out around the world, climate scientists are left to count the rising cost of inaction, be it the bleaching of coral reefs or increasing droughts, fires and floods.

The ConversationIf only it were all a hoax.

Christian Downie, Fellow and Higher Degree Research Convener, Australian National University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The US quitting the Paris climate agreement will only make things worse


Jonathan Pickering, University of Canberra

US President Donald Trump has announced that he will decide this week whether to follow through on his threat to pull out of the Paris climate agreement. Some news outlets are already reporting that he has decided to leave. But would the world be better off if the US stays or goes?

An array of environmental groups, businesses and leaders of other countries are calling for the US to stay. While their reasons vary, a common theme is that the US has both a moral obligation to play its part in global climate policy, and an economic interest in doing so.

Many of these arguments rely on the US taking strong domestic climate action. But Trump has already begun dismantling a raft of Obama-era climate policies. Unless reversed, these moves will ruin any chance of the US meeting its current target of reducing emissions by 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025. Trump’s draft budget would also drastically cut US climate aid to developing nations.

With this in mind, the question becomes: is global climate policy better served if a recalcitrant major power stays on board or if it goes its own way?

Considered this way, the arguments for leaving become harder to dismiss. In two thought-provoking commentaries, climate policy experts Luke Kemp of the Australian National University and Matthew Hoffmann of the University of Toronto argue that the world would actually better off if the US pulls out. Two reasons loom large in these analyses: the US would be prevented from white-anting further UN negotiations, and the backlash to its withdrawal would spur on China, Europe and other nations to greater action.

But if we look closely at each argument, it’s far from clear that leaving is the lesser evil.

Sidelining US obstruction?

It is not a foregone conclusion that the US, if it stayed, would be able to hold the talks hostage or successfully water down rules aimed at preventing countries from backsliding on their targets. Granted, the UN’s consensus-based model makes this a real danger, but climate negotiations have reached decisions even in the face of opposition from a major power, as happened when Russia was overridden in 2012.

What’s more, withdrawing wouldn’t necessarily stop the US trying to play spoiler anyway. Formal withdrawal from Paris could take until late 2020. Even then (assuming a more progressive president isn’t elected shortly after that), the US could still cause trouble by remaining within the Agreement’s parent treaty, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The “nuclear option” of withdrawing from the UNFCCC itself would create further problems. Rejoining it would be likely to require the approval of the US Senate (which, given its current makeup, seems highly doubtful), whereas a new administration could rejoin Paris through a Presidential-executive agreement.

Will other countries do more?

Major economies like China and India have their own domestic reasons for cutting emissions, not least local air pollution and energy security. Both China and India plan to stick with the agreement regardless of what the US does. There are signs that they will exceed their current climate targets, thus more than outweighing the increase in emissions resulting from US climate policy rollbacks. We can’t be confident that US withdrawal would encourage China and India to do any more than they are already doing now.

The Kyoto Protocol provides a sobering precedent: while those countries that stayed in the protocol complied with their targets, none of them raised their targets to take up the slack when the US withdrew.

Writing in The Conversation, Luke Kemp suggests that US withdrawal could trigger countries to slap carbon tariffs on US imports. Large economies such as the European Union and China could attempt to do so outside the Paris framework, but few (if any) major trading partners will be eager for a trade war with the US.

US withdrawal is just as likely to demotivate other countries as energise them. Nations with less domestic momentum on climate policy may likewise pull out, water down their current or future targets, or fail to ratify Paris. For now, Australia plans to stay in, regardless of what the US does. A greater risk is Russia, the world’s fifth-largest emitter, which doesn’t plan to ratify the Paris Agreement until at least 2019. Other reluctant countries whose stance may be influenced by what the US does include Saudi Arabia and the Philippines (which have ratified Paris) and Iran and Turkey (which have not).

Fallout for multilateralism

Neither of the two arguments I’ve discussed so far amounts to a solid case for leaving. Meanwhile, there is another key reason for the US to stay: the risk that its withdrawal would strike a broader blow to the principle of multilateralism – the idea that tough global problems need to be solved through inclusive cooperation, not unilateral action or a spaghetti bowl of bilateral deals.

The UN climate talks are firmly integrated into the bigger picture of global diplomacy, and the Paris deal itself was seen as a huge achievement for multilateralism. Both the US and Australia previously suffered significant diplomatic fallout for deciding to stay out of Kyoto.

The international reaction to withdrawal from Paris would be even harsher. US participation was a prerequisite for China and India to sign up, and key elements of the treaty were designed to enable the US to join. To pull out after all that would be an egregious violation of trust and goodwill.

Some might welcome the resulting diminution of Trump’s ability to push through his agenda globally. But ultimately the erosion of multilateralism – already damaged by Brexit and Trump’s abrasive trip to Europe – is in no country’s interest if it undermines international trust and cooperation on issues like trade, public health and security.

Treaty withdrawal is uncommon in international diplomacy, arguably much more so than non-compliance. One of the few studies on this issue found that only 3.5% of multilateral treaties had any withdrawals. As most treaty exits are concentrated in a small number of treaties, the risk of knock-on effects is a real concern. When Canada withdrew from Kyoto, for example, it cited US non-participation as a justification.

Given how badly the US is behaving on climate policy, it is tempting to argue that it needs some time out from Paris until it’s ready to play nicely with the other kids again. But the fallout from US withdrawal could last far longer than a one- or two-term Republican presidency.

Withdrawal from Paris would signal, more emphatically than domestic inaction alone, that a major polluter is ready to turn its back on the international consensus that a 2℃ warmer world should be avoided. That would be bad, not just for international cooperation on climate change, but also for the broader project of multilateralism.


The ConversationThanks to Christian Downie, John Dryzek, Mark Howden, Luke Kemp (whom the author debated at an event held by the ANU Climate Change Institute), Peter Lawrence and Jeff McGee for insightful and lively discussions on this topic.

Jonathan Pickering, Postdoctoral Fellow, Centre for Deliberative Democracy and Global Governance, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.