Photo: Corporate Accountability and our allies at the most recent meetings of the U.N. climate treaty.
Yesterday, the Trump administration announced its decision to leave the Paris Agreement of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This is an extreme outcome of conflicts of interest run amok, and does not reflect the will and interests of most people in the United States or around the world.
But you can be assured that even though the U.S. has decided to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, Corporate Accountability International will continue to advance the work to secure a conflict of interest policy at the international, national, and local levels that protects climate policy from the outsized influence of the fossil fuel industry.
Here’s what you need to know about the recent developments:
As of Thursday afternoon, in a statement made by Donald Trump, the United States government ceased all implementation of the Paris Agreement with immediate effect, including its implementation of measures to cut emissions by 26-28 percent below its 2005 level by 2025, and all further financial contributions to the Green Climate Fund. The Green Climate Fund aims to help build climate resilience in Global South countries that have done little to cause the environmental dangers they are experiencing as a result of historic emissions largely emitted by the U.S., and is the same fund we helped ensure Barack Obama paid half a billion dollars into before he left office.
By withdrawing, the U.S. has joined only two other countries in the whole world that are not part of the Paris Agreement. Nicaragua did not join because the agreement was not binding, and in their view, too weak. The other country is war-torn Syria.
Trump’s false claims
Trump cited a wide variety of reasons for his decision to pull out of what he described as a “draconian,” burdensome, and “unfair” agreement, claiming that staying in would cost the U.S. 2.7 million jobs by 2025, $3 trillion loss in GDP, and $7,000 less income for American families.
He also argued that while the U.S. would be required to drastically curb its emissions, countries like China (which has surpassed the U.S. to become the world’s biggest global emitter of CO2, although the U.S. still remains the largest per capita emitter and the largest historical emitter) would not be required to take as drastic measures.
Not surprisingly, many of the claims Trump used to justify his decision are unfounded at best, heavily citing claims made in reports commissioned by industry-linked groups. An interactive infographic by The New York Times shows just how bogus it is to paint the U.S. as the loser in this. The U.S. is the biggest source of the problem, not China, or any other country.
Trump also “badly misunderstood” MIT research, which he inaccurately portrayed to back his claim that even if the Paris Agreement was fully implemented by all countries, it would only result in two-tenths of one degree Celsius reduction in global temperature by the year 2100.
He also completely overlooked the abundance of economic benefits associated with green development, nor did he recognize the saved cost of the consequences to public health and the environment that would be avoided with strong action. He failed to acknowledge that the main drivers of decreasing coal production are demand and market-driven, not the result of climate change regulations, and that more people are actually employed in the green energy sector than the coal sector.
A better deal?
In the same statement, Trump expressed a willingness to renegotiate the Paris Agreement terms (or a whole new agreement altogether) and get a “better deal” for the United States. However, the very deal he is pulling out of is a carefully crafted agreement whereby countries put forward their own self-determined pledges and agree to their own ways to meet them. As The New York Times editorial board put it:
Paris [Agreement] did not, in short, legally constrain Mr. Trump from doing the dumb things he wanted to do. Which he already has. In the last few months, and without consulting a single foreign leader, he has ordered rollbacks of every one of the policies on which President Barack Obama based his ambitious pledge to reduce America’s greenhouse gas emissions by 26 percent to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 — most prominently, policies aimed at reducing greenhouse gases from coal-fired power plants, automobiles and oil and gas wells… Perhaps most astonishing of all, a chief executive who touts himself as a shrewd businessman, and who ran on a promise of jobs for the middle class and making America great again, seems blind to the damage this will do to America’s own economic interests.
Evidence of fossil fuel industry influence
Trump’s withdrawal of the U.S. from the Paris Agreement is evidence of the continued oily influence of the fossil fuel industry in dictating national and international climate policy.
The fossil fuel industry uses slick PR schemes to publicly position itself as a necessary “stakeholder” in the U.N. climate negotiations, but behind the scenes, it continues to spend millions of dollars to bankroll climate-change-denying U.S. politicians and undermine climate policy on the national and international levels.
While CEOs of all major oil corporations have professed to wanting to stay in the Paris Agreement, media reports link Trump’s decision to leave the Paris Agreement in part to a letter sent by 22 Republicans, many of whom have financial ties to the industry.
This latest move shows just how out of step the Trump administration is with the people in the U.S. (not to mention around the world) who have demonstrated, since the day of and even before Trump’s election, their commitment to advancing true climate change solutions.
And immediately following Trump’s announcement, global leaders the world over strongly condemned his decision. The EU and China have jointly committed to seeing through full implementation of the Agreement, as has the EU and African Union. Moments after Trump made his announcement, France, Italy, and Germany issued a joint statement condemning Trump’s decision (although the UK’s consternation was noticeably absent).
French President Emmanuel Macron immediately took to the cameras to call the pullout a mistake, both for the U.S. and the planet. In a direct rebuke to Trump, Macron reminded everyone: “Wherever we live, whoever we are, we all share the same responsibility. Make our planet great again. Thank you.”
Other world leaders that have issued statements include the Netherlands, Australia, Canada, Fiji, Brazil, Japan, Argentina, Mexico, and Tuvalu, to name a few.
Leading scientists from around the world have also responded in force, while Tesla’s CEO has stepped down from White House advisory council positions after the announcement (IBM, Intel and Dell CEOs remain.). And Obama called on states, cities and businesses to fill the void and help the U.S. reap the vast economic, social, and health benefits that come with leading the pack on climate change.
What happens next?
Trump failed to outline next steps in his announcement, but the U.S. will presumably formally begin the four-year-long process of withdrawing from the Paris Agreement. During this time, it is likely the U.S. will continue to exert its influence, undermining and weakening global climate action for as long as it can continue to buy a seat at the table, without having to actually act.
With the urgency higher than ever, Corporate Accountability International will build on the momentum we generated at the latest UNFCCC meetings to kick big polluters out of climate policy. Alongside our Global South allies we successfully raised the profile of the fossil fuel industry’s conflicts of interest at the UNFCCC.
In the coming months, we will escalate our organizing with Global South and North governments to quickly and forcefully advance conflict of interest policies at the international level to prevent the kind of manipulation and weakening of policy that we have seen for so long.
At the same time, we will continue our grassroots organizing in the United States. We will ensure people across the country continue to demonstrate at every turn our collective commitment to finding just and effective solutions to climate change. We must hold the Trump regime accountable for disregarding the will of the people in order to advance the agenda and profits of the fossil fuel industry.
Indeed, in defiance of Trump, representatives of U.S. cities, states, and companies — so far including 30 mayors, 3 governors, 80+ university presidents, and 100+ businesses — are preparing to submit a plan to the United Nations that commits themselves to stepping in to honor the United States’ greenhouse gas emissions pledges under the Paris Agreement. States, including California; New York; Washington; and Portland, Oregon have all shamed Trump’s decision and have committed to take state action that replaces the total lack of national action.
We will also continue our campaigning to hold the fossil fuel industry accountable for the harms it has caused. To that end, we will continue our work to support investigations into Exxon Mobil by state attorneys general like Maura Healey.
We are heartened by the surprise vote in Exxon’s annual shareholders’ meeting this Wednesday, in which 62 percent of shareholders demanded that Exxon report on how climate change affects its business. The proposal saw a surge in voting after last year, when only 38 percent of shareholders supported it, and requires the corporation to annually analyze how climate change regulation and the development of green technology has affected business.
Hope in unity
Even today, we hold on to our hope and determination. This development has the potential to spur greater unity worldwide, between nations, cities, local governments, and people. Ironically, it’s Trump’s shameless failure to do what’s right that could rally the world to do just that. Indeed, history may show that Trump’s decision to leave the Paris Agreement will, perversely, provide an unprecedented opportunity to spur sweeping changes at the UNFCCC.
Now, more than ever, is the time to double down on our commitments to build a world free of corporate influence.