EXPERT VIEWS: US exit from Paris deal a blow - but drive for climate action rolls on

by Thomson Reuters Foundation | @meganrowling | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 4 November 2020 18:00 GMT

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump refers to amounts of temperature change as he announces his decision that the United States will withdraw from the landmark Paris Climate Agreement, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, U.S., June 1, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo

Image Caption and Rights Information

President Trump may have withdrawn his country from the global climate change accord, but many American cities, states and companies continue to work towards its aims

Nov 4 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - As the United States officially withdrew from the 2015 Paris Agreement on Wednesday, officials, analysts and campaigners said the departure dealt a blow to global climate diplomacy and the battle to curb rising planet-heating emissions.

But, they noted, many American cities, states and companies continue to lead a push to meet U.S. commitments under the Paris accord, aimed at heading off the worst impacts of wild weather and rising seas by reining in temperature rise.

And they said it would be relatively simple for Washington to rejoin the pact should Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden win the race for the White House, which was still in question Wednesday as vote-counting continued in a close race.

Here are some views from climate experts on the U.S. withdrawal from the landmark Paris deal, a key policy promise by President Donald Trump, who has rejected mainstream science on climate change and promoted fossil fuel use:

Patricia Espinosa, United Nations climate chief

“The United States is a leader internationally and... actually was instrumental in the design of the Paris Agreement. Its withdrawal will leave a gap in our regime and the global efforts to achieve the goals and ambitions of the Paris Agreement.

At the same time, I would say that I am encouraged to see how much is happening in the U.S. in the area of sustainability, and specific actions to address climate change at different levels, and in the private sector and civil society.

My hope would be, of course, that some time very soon we could see the U.S. rejoin the Paris Agreement. The U.S. will remain an important actor in our process in any case because it is a party to the (U.N.) Convention on Climate Change (and) it will remain a party to the convention. We will be of course ready to assist the U.S. in any effort in order to rejoin the Paris Agreement.”

Michael R. Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies and Bloomberg LP, 108th Mayor of New York City and America’s Pledge co-chair

“While the Trump administration pulled out of the Paris Agreement, the American people never supported that decision – and cities and states and businesses across the country resolved to do their part to stay in. The public understands that fighting climate change goes hand in hand with protecting our health and growing our economy…

So despite the White House’s best efforts to drag our country backward, it hasn’t stopped our climate progress over the past four years – and in fact, it has led to even more bottom-up action, to make up for the lack of leadership at the top.” 

Laurence Tubiana, CEO, European Climate Foundation and key architect of Paris Agreement

“2020 has clarified the importance of listening to the science and protecting the most vulnerable among us. Regardless of the ultimate outcome of the U.S. elections, we are seeing leaders from across the world and even across the U.S. rising to the challenge and accelerating the clean energy transition.

If climate deniers keep control of the White House and Congress, delivering a climate-safe planet will be more challenging. Almost all countries would welcome a U.S. return to the table of global climate leaders, but major economies know this is an inevitable economic and societal shift, and have shown they will stand together to move international climate cooperation forward under either outcome.”

Rachel Cleetus, policy director of climate and energy programme, Union of Concerned Scientists

“The U.S. exit from the Paris Agreement is a shameful act and is especially cruel at a time when the world is reeling from devastating disasters worsened by climate change, including most recently Super Typhoon Goni and Hurricane Eta. The decision to leave the Paris Agreement has left the United States globally isolated in its defiance of scientific realities, and will cause real harm to people, the planet and the economy...

U.S. cities, states and businesses should both strengthen their climate pledges and bring more public and private entities on board. And the nation’s youth, frontline communities, environmental activists, labour groups and scientists will continue to lead the fight for climate justice. But there is no doubt that without federal leadership, our nation’s efforts to address climate change will fall short.”

Helen Mountford, vice president for climate and economics, World Resources Institute

“The decision to leave the Paris Agreement was wrong when it was announced and is still wrong today. The climate crisis is a threat to America's prosperity and wellbeing, and most Americans want the government to pursue the goals outlined in the agreement.

Simply put, the United States should stay with the other 189 parties to the agreement, not go out alone. The United States should be at the forefront of global efforts to stave off the climate crisis.”

Sonam Phuntsho Wangdi of Bhutan, chair of Least Developed Countries (LDC) Group at U.N. climate negotiations

"It’s disappointing that today the U.S. leaves the Paris Agreement. A bold, cooperative global response is urgently needed to address climate change. For the LDCs, the impacts are especially devastating. We must work together to build a safe world for present and future generations."

Bob Perciasepe, president, Center for Climate and Energy Solutions   

“The U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement is a shameful retreat from our obligations to our planet and to future generations. No country can withdraw from the reality of climate change, and no country bears greater responsibility, or possesses greater capacity, to lead the world in confronting this reality head on.

Other nations thankfully remain committed to the Paris Agreement, and we are confident that the United States will in time recommit itself to this vital global cause."

John Verdieck, director of international climate policy, The Nature Conservancy

"If we are to keep climate change at manageable levels, we need all countries to implement the Paris Agreement and make commitments to reduce emissions through trust and cooperation. Any American president should restore us to the Paris Agreement, consistent with the will of the American people, the demands of the planet and the need of the nation to remain relevant and competitive economically.”

Nathaniel Keohane, senior vice president for climate, Environmental Defense Action Fund

"With Washington having abandoned the field, other American voices would take the lead in the climate fight. States, cities and companies all over America are already taking ambitious climate action, and many have committed themselves to doing their part to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.

For instance, the number of corporate net-zero pledges has doubled in less than a year. That's more than 1,500 companies with a combined revenue of more than $11.4 trillion."

Sriram Madhusoodanan, U.S. climate campaign director at Corporate Accountability

"People in the U.S. continue to demand government action on climate change, all while the U.S. government instead carries out big polluters' wish-lists...

In history books, this move will be seen as just one of many embarrassments from this administration. It’s time the U.S. own up to its role as a major global emitter and take it on with the urgency and action it requires."

Jean Su, energy justice director with the Center for Biological Diversity Action Fund

“Most Americans want bold action to confront the climate crisis... U.S. leaders can’t let powerful polluters continue to sabotage and subvert crucial efforts here and around the world to zero-out planet-warming emissions and put us on the path to ending oil, gas and coal extraction.”

Paul Behrens, assistant professor in energy and environmental change, Leiden University, Netherlands

"Although the U.S. (has seen that its) proportion of total emissions has been going down because of other countries getting richer and more development, America really sets a lot of the global discourse... Without America, it's hard to see how any sort of transition to a better future would be possible."

Miriam Talwisa, national coordinator, Climate Action Network-Uganda 

"The effects of the U.S. government withdrawal from the Paris Agreement have had negative connotations on many sub-Saharan countries, which in many ways are vulnerable to climate change...

Countries have suffered severely from (Trump's) termination of climate agreements and subsequently programs that were being operationalised on bilateral terms."

Read more:

Governments blocking path to carbon-neutral future, UN chief warns

Not personal enough: Why climate change is not yet a top priority

Political 'retreat' on climate action harms all nations, says UN climate chief

(Reporting by Megan Rowling @meganrowling and Thin Lei Win; editing by Laurie Goering. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate)

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.