Is the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement a conservative act?

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“We’re definitely, completely, undoubtedly leaving the accord.” With these words, President Trump announced his intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. This decision did not come as a surprise, although it disappointed many around the globe. Now the question is, will it impede global progress toward limiting the rise in temperatures?

Michael Oppenheimer, Princeton climate scientist and co-editor of the Journal of Climactic Change thinks it could, saying “if we lag, the noose tightens” — despite the US Energy Information Administration (EIA)’s estimate that the US is forty years ahead of forecasts in renewable energy growth.

Surprisingly, the same conservative Republican Party principles that led the US to withdraw from the Paris Agreement are also preventing lag. A strong military, free market and support for business, and a limited federal government that favors more state-based regulations are peppered throughout the 2016 Republican Party platform. Here is how these segments react to climate change. First, the military’s response to climate change: as a part of its readiness program, the Department of Defense (DoD) prepared a Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap, where it states “among the future trends that will impact our national security is climate change.” This document then describes adaptation strategies that are reminiscent of the ones required by the Paris Agreement Article 7.

The business community — specifically big business — urged the president to keep the US in the Paris Agreement. The CEOs of Exxon Mobil, BP, and Chevron took out an ad in a major U.S. newspaper to declare, “by expanding markets for innovative clean technologies, the agreement generates jobs and economic growth.”

Finally, in the face of President Trump’s decision, state governments have jumped in to mitigate GHG emissions and spur climate change adaptation. The United States Climate Alliance is a consortium of 14 states and Puerto Rico that represents 36% of the US population, $7 trillion of the national GDP, and 1.7 million jobs in green energy. The Alliance has affirmed its commitment to achieve the US’s Paris Agreement pledge. Along with a 14% increase in economic growth, it has already achieved a 15% reduction in GHGs as compared to 2005 levels. It is on track to meet the Paris Agreement goal of 26-28% reduction in GHG emissions by 2025 as compared to 2005.

Nonetheless, we should continue to be disappointed by the announced withdrawal (and thankful for the slow withdrawal procedure detailed in Article 28). The US withdrawal is based on a dangerous idea. This idea depicts climate change policy as a choice between environmental conservation and economic growth or between jobs and regulation. Framing climate change in these terms allows people to think that the issue is a matter of trade-offs. It leads to thinking that, at some point, providing jobs is most important so the environment must take a back seat. However, in reality, climate change is an existential threat and needs to be dealt with.