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Zhao Minghao: Trump underrates cost of quitting Paris deal

2017-06-06

By Zhao Minghao    Source: Global Times    Published: 2017-6-5

 

US President Donald Trump has announced that he is withdrawing the US from the Paris climate agreement. Samantha Power, former US ambassador to the UN under the Obama administration tweeted that this signals the end of the "American century." Trump`s heavy blow to global climate governance reaffirms his serious commitment to his "America First" agenda.


Greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide generated by human activities have triggered the problem of climate change, which not only leads to global warming and an increase in extreme weather, but also damages the ecosystem mankind relies on to survive. In August 2015, the UN adopted the "2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development" in place of the Millennium Development Goals set in 2000. The development agenda jointly formulated by the international community put climate change in a prominent position. Then UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon warned that we are the last generation that can put an end to climate change.


However, Trump seems to be the only state leader in the world rejecting climate change science. He even fiercely criticized Obama as the first American president to consider climate change as a national security threat. According to Trump, Obama and other so-called "globalists" in the US have deliberately exaggerated the danger of climate change and as a result have stalled the development of oil, natural gas and coal within the country, driving up living costs for the American people.


Trump`s climate change denial originates from his aversion to globalization. He claims his job is "not to represent the world but to represent the United States of America" and he will "not surrender the US to a false song of globalism." He doesn`t think the US should continue making large contributions to the stability, development and wellbeing of the world. His real enemy is globalism, rather than Democrats such as Hillary Clinton.


Withdrawing from the Paris accord thus appears as a natural and inevitable step. Since Trump took office he has released an "America First Energy Plan" aimed at lifting limitations on expansion of fossil fuel energy development. Scott Pruitt, environmental protection agency administrator appointed by Trump, has long been negative regarding emission reduction and even publicly called the Paris accord a "bad deal." At the end of March 2017, Trump signed executive orders to undo Obama`s climate change agenda including the Clean Power Plan.


Trump is obviously not patient. He needs to prove to his supporters that he is able to make good on his campaign promises. Facing midterm elections in 2018 and a divided nation, Trump seems to have no interest in patching things up with the globalists in the US.


National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and Director of the National Economic Council Gary Cohn, both moderates in the White House, recently published an article in The Wall Street Journal, saying that "America First doesn`t mean America alone," though  nobody knows whether these senior officials can speak for Trump. As former assistant secretary of state James P. Rubin put it, "Most troubling is the way Mr. Trump has allowed, or perhaps encouraged, the creation of confusing lines of authority and alternative centers of power within the White House."


Trump has most likely underestimated the price the US will have to pay after withdrawing from the Paris accord. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, no longer seeing the US as a reliable ally of Europe, doesn`t even bother to conceal her aversion and distaste for Trump. EU and Chinese leaders have held a summit in Brussels and the joint declaration released afterward has lent strong support to the Paris accord.


The US is a major world greenhouse gas emitter, second only to China, and climate change had become a new pillar of Sino-US relations in recent years. American scientists had been working together with their Chinese counterparts to study and utilize clean energy. This has been good for environmental protection and gained tangible benefits. The idea that respect for the environment facilitates economic growth has finally taken root in China.


According to a rweport recently released by UN Climate Change Conference, China`s carbon dioxide emission will probably peak 10 years ahead of current Chinese government estimates.


The US withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement may cause unimaginable damage to global climate governance. More importantly, it badly undermines the political willingness of large world powers to address common challenges. The US under Trump`s leadership is becoming a part of rather than a solution to the problem.


The author is a visiting fellow of Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China.

Key Words: US   climate change   Trump   Zhao Minghao  

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