Climate change negotiators from around the world – now meeting at the COP22 conference in Marrakech, Morocco – continue steadfastly with the task of putting meaning and action into the landmark 2015 Paris Agreement to bring down global greenhouse gas emissions.
Yet, the tone in Marrakech has suddenly become more subdued. While many conversations remain staunchly defiant, others have assumed a funeral-like quality, as national delegates and civil society representatives try to assess the ramifications of the U.S. presidential election.
Elections have consequences for global climate change negotiations and the future of the planet.
President-elect Donald Trump has repeatedly stated he does not believe in human-induced climate change. He has argued that climate change is an expensive hoax that was created by the Chinese to make U.S. manufacturing noncompetitive. He has also declared his intent to roll back federal climate change and renewable energy policy. Most poignantly for Marrakech, he has loudly declared an intention to “cancel the Paris climate agreement.”
Some cling to the hope that President Trump will forget pronouncements made by Candidate Trump just as Candidate Trump had ignored the pontifications of Citizen Trump. An important indicator of why this may not be the case is the appointment of Myron Ebell as head of the transition team for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Ebell, also a front-runner to be appointed as head of the EPA, is an outspoken climate change denier who flat out rejects the Paris Agreement as unconstitutional.
Notwithstanding the mechanics of officially “leaving” the Paris Agreement – which stipulate a four-year process – how should the rest of the world respond if the Trump administration were to formally or informally disengage from the Paris Agreement?
We think there are at least four ways in which things can unfold.
Scenario 1: Walk out with the US
If the Trump administration decides to withdraw from the Paris Agreement then other major economies which are parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will have justification to do the same. This is de facto what happened with the 1997 Kyoto Protocol once it became clear that the U.S. would not ratify and was not serious about its implementation.
Not least because the Paris Agreement came together as a result of much diplomatic leadership by the Obama administration, other countries would feel a legitimate sense of anger and disappointment towards the United States if it were to walk away from the agreement.
Whether the walkout is a formal withdrawal from the agreement or an informal abdication from its responsibilities, the Paris Agreement would be effectively doomed as signatories fail to meet pledges to reduce country emissions made in Paris. The implication of such a scenario is that the UNFCCC negotiation process could just wither away and critical agreed-upon temperature goals would slip further out of reach.
Scenario 2: Kick the US out
As the world’s largest economy, although not by the margins it once was, and the world’s largest emitter of CO2, the U.S. remains central to the enterprise of curtailing global climate change, but arguably is no longer as indispensable as it once was.
Such a rationale and the anger that would be triggered by a U.S. walk-out of the Paris Agreement, particularly amongst the European Union (EU) and China, could induce the parties that remain serious about the agreement to adopt a retaliatory posture. While it would be unprecedented, countries could decide that a U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement should have real consequences for U.S. involvement and participation in the U.N. climate change process.