US withdraws from climate change agreement but NZ remains committed

US President Donald Trump’s today confirmed his decision to withdraw the US from the Paris climate agreement but may begin negotiations for a better deal.

The US accounts for more than 15 per cent of total global emissions, exceeded only by China.

Under former President Barack Obama, the US committed to reduce its emissions by 26 per cent to 28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025.

New Zealand has committed to reducing emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.

Climate Change Minister Paula Bennett (HERE) said the US withdrawal was “a step backwards” but New Zealand remained committed to the agreement and the accord was still intact.

Green Party co-leader James Shaw said the US decision was a retrograde step but the rest of the world would keep calm and carry on.

The Science Media Centre asked climate change experts to comment on the implications of President Trumps decision (HERE).

It has posted these comments:

Professor James Renwick, School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences, Victoria University of Wellington,.

“My take is that this is a backward step, but it’s hardly game over for the Agreement or for climate change. The US could stay in and do nothing, which would be as unhelpful as pulling out.

“The US stepping away from Paris hands the opportunity to China, the EU, and others, to take the lead and this is already happening. I understand China is already developing an agreement with the EU to push harder on emissions reductions.

“Plus, the President and Washington is not the USA. Individual cities and states are doing their own thing. The Governor of California has already signalled that he’s looking internationally for partners to push emissions reductions.

“So, Trump pulling out may just encourage the rest of the world to do more. The US is pulling back from global leadership and other nations will step in to take over. This move may, in fact, signal the start of China’s real dominance of international affairs.

“Climate change is an incredibly pressing problem. If we are to live up to the Paris Agreement, the global community has somewhere between 5 and 20 years to move on significant emissions reductions. Every nation must strive to lead on this issue, and if the US isn’t there, New Zealand and other countries must step up.”

Associate Professor Bronwyn Hayward, political scientist, University of Canterbury, comments:

“It feels surreal to be listening to Trump’s announcement as I am packing to leave tonight for the author meeting on the Special Report for the IPCC about how to achieve the objectives agreed in Paris to limit global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.

“I was simply shocked to hear Trump describe a 2 degrees climate rise as “tiny, tiny” amount because a global rise of 2 degrees translates to much higher local temperature changes and changes beyond 2 degrees risks dangerous climate events

• The Announcement is no surprise – Trump signalled he intended to pull out of the agreement.

• What is a surprise is how long it took and that Trump has had to leave the door open for his re-entry into the Paris Agreement

• This decision has taken a very long time and is so equivocal because it is not one that is well supported even amongst his own core vote base. This is why Trump is working so hard to make climate change seem a ‘foreign’ economic threat

• Despite the deeply partisan political divisions in the USA, a detailed poll this month by Yale University of Americans’ attitudes to climate change revealed only 1 in 5 US voters now support withdrawing from the Paris Agreement and less than a third, just 28% of Trump’s own vote base agrees America should leave the climate agreement

“USA withdrawal also creates significant new problems for the President, which is why he has keep the door open

1. First are political challenges; the withdrawal of Trump will create a political vacuum which China and EU is already stepping into as new global leaders in technology- there is also significant risk of political isolation of USA. Tillerson’s visit to NZ for example reminds us that the USA needs it’s international allies, but by putting ‘America First’ also reminds domestic populations in the rest of the world that is what is good for America is not necessarily good for their own countries and this will make it harder for other governments to forge alliances with an unpopular USA administration.

2. Second, the President’s decision creates significant industry challenges. There is no evidence that there will be new jobs created by the old industries, while other significant business leaders of new industries, including Apple, will be very frustrated at changes to US regulations for new investment in clean technology. We can also expect intense lobbying now from some sectors to destabilise the wider global climate agreement by arguing that without USA ‘what is the point?’. However, while the USA makes up about 26% of total global emissions, what the rest of the world does will now matter very much. We can also expect to see intense lobbying from geoengineering sector to position experimental industries like large-scale carbon capture and storage.

3. Third, this creates significant leadership challenges for the President as the leadership vacuum allows space for a new generation of younger world leaders and city and state governments to position themselves as offering new vision, and many like the state of California are already significant global leaders in addressing climate change.”

Dr Adrian Macey, senior associate, Institute for Governance and Policy Studies, Victoria University of Wellington, comments:

“There are two ways to ‘leave’ the Paris Agreement:

• Formal withdrawal – this would be the ‘nuclear’ option. It would be seen as a hostile act. Under the Agreement the process could take 4 years.
• Change or suspend the NDC (nationally-determined contribution) which is what Trump claims is an unfair burden on the economy. He could change this, as it is not legally binding. This would mean that a future administration could simply renew/revise the US contribution and restart cooperation.

“The loss of the US would be damaging, for sure, for four reasons:

• As the world’s second largest emitter, without it, staying within the 2 Degrees target would be much harder, if not impossible

• It could give an excuse to other countries not to stick to their targets

• It would signal an end to the leadership of the “G2” (US and China) whose cooperation was essential in getting the Paris Agreement.

• If it were followed by pulling money out of climate change more widely, it might call into question the very valuable and world-leading research being done in the US eg. by NASA with its various satellite-based research projects.

“And of course, it would mean a huge loss of influence for the US.

“BUT there are mitigating factors:

• There is already a global shift towards renewable energy (the core of the climate change challenge), quite independent of any international agreements. The economics are changing rapidly, and there are additional benefits in jobs and innovation. Coal is unprofitable in the US for simple economic reasons, nothing to do with climate change.

• Other countries are signalling that a US withdrawal won’t lessen their commitment to the Paris Agreement

• Powerful US states such as California will continue their climate change policies.

• Major US businesses, even oil companies are moving to address climate change in their long-term plans.

• China has signalled it intends to retain its global leadership role, and the EU will be keen to step into the gap left by the US – they have been less influential in recent years.

“So …. unfortunate, and a setback but no need to despair.”

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