November 9 will likely become the day that the Paris Agreement died, but not when the goal of limiting warming to 2℃ slipped out of reach.
President Donald Trump can, and likely will, drop out of the Paris climate agreement. Direct withdrawal will take four years.
But Trump could instead drop out from the overall climate convention under which the agreement operates. That would only take one year and would result in automatic withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.
It would shortcut any hopes that Paris would bind Trump’s hands for some time.
As I’ve argued in my research, a US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement would be its death knell.
A predictable loose cannon
Trump has also promised a range of further destructive international and domestic actions on climate and energy. These include cutting all international climate financing, rescinding energy regulations, reopening federal and offshore areas for coal and oil development and abolishing the clean power plan.
There is some hope that Trump is a loose cannon who may renege on his previous promises. Such hope is ultimately false. Trump has already appointed noted climate denier Myron Ebell as the head of his Environmental Protection Agency transition team.
More importantly, the Republican establishment supports this approach to climate policy. The agreed Republican platform of July rejects the Paris Agreement and calls for it to be submitted to the Senate (where it would be defeated) as well as an end of all funding to the UN climate convention. Their domestic policies are best summarised as “drill, baby, drill!”
It is foolish to believe that Trump would oppose his own party, and many of the voters of the US “rust belt” whose support he relied on, in an attempt to save the Paris Agreement.
Trump may be unpredictable in some regards, but his approach to climate change is not.
Counting the losses
Trump’s climate policy would lead to the US overshooting its already inadequate 2030 climate targets. The US needs additional measures on top of the Clean Power Plan to meet the targets established by Obama.
The US withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, or blatantly missing its climate targets, could be near fatal for a deal which relies on global ambition. The Paris Agreement relies on two things: increasing ambition through peer pressure, and a signal to markets and the public.
Both peer pressure and the signal will be shredded by a rogue, Trump-led United States.
States will be unlikely to feel pressured if the world’s second largest greenhouse emitter is polluting unabated. The effects of US recalcitrance were all too clear in the case of the Kyoto Protocol, which the United States simply refused to ratify. Trust would be undermined and excuses for inaction amplified if the US abandons international efforts again.
Any signal that existed from the framework of Paris would be largely extinguished. Already fossil fuels stocks have surged post-election despite a downturn in the rest of the market. Renewable energy share prices have plummeted. The idea of the signal hinged on broad participation creating investor confidence in international law. US withdrawal and the breaking of commitments will shatter any belief that investors may have had in Paris.