Withdrawing from the United Nations Paris Climate Accord is one of more than 100 electoral campaign promises that Donald Trump made. By delivering on that promise, the US joined Nicaragua and Syria, the only countries that did not sign the agreement.
Nicaragua’s decision to not sign was not due to any indifference or denialism of climate change. Rather, the Central American nation’s reason was the contrary. It was based on its view that the agreement was not enough to address the climate crisis. Syria is in the middle of civil war and under US and European sanctions.
Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris Agreement is undeniably wrong, narrow-minded, irresponsible, and destructive. It is right that concerned people all over the world are appalled and world leaders are condemning the normalisation of climate denialism by the US administration.
But let’s remember important facts about the UN Paris Agreement.
Climate justice campaigners in the global South, alongside many in the US, know that the US, even before Trump’s election, is far from a “climate leader”. The US is the biggest historical greenhouse gas emitter and source of almost a third of the global carbon emissions.
It has also weakened the Kyoto Protocol and has consistently used its power in the climate negotiation talks to reduce the ambitions of the process — and push market mechanisms that favour climate profiteers or global corporations and the interests of rich countries.
The Paris Agreement is non-binding and falls far short of what must be done to even reach the already-weak target of keeping the global average temperature rise to under 2 degrees — let alone the 1.5 degrees in the preamble of the agreement.
The international climate regime continues to subordinate the global South. Many of its solutions, at best, do not match the scale of the problem. At worst, they are false solutions.
The UN climate process has been frustrating for many developing countries who attend in the hope of pushing for globally-binding and appropriate solutions to climate change. Poor and vulnerable countries that have contributed very little to the current level of greenhouse gasses are already experiencing tremendous climate-related catastrophe.
The people of the Carteret Islands of Papua New Guinea have already been dislocated and have become the first climate refugees, while farmers in many countries in sub-Saharan Africa are already finding it difficult to farm and are losing their livelihoods. Archipelagic countries like the Philippines are increasingly visited by severe storms.
Many cities are facing the possibilities of sinking under rising sea levels. Even the US is not spared from flooding.
Trump’s action on the climate front definitely disturbs the climate regime. However, the ecological equilibrium of the planet does not rest on the current process as it is now, nor on the success of the Paris Agreement. The bigger implication of Trump’s action is on how the world should now see the US.
Trump’s short-sighted and ill-informed reasons for abandoning the climate accord is an aggressive act of shattering the very world order that the US has painstakingly built. In its anxiety of losing its status as the world’s richest economic superpower, it is retreating to insularity.
An insecure superpower is a dangerous superpower. Diplomacy is about harmoniously using power and ethical credibility. Under the Trump presidency, the US is fast losing its credibility to lead.
Trump’s action reveals his total disregard for the fate of humanity. His refusal to understand facts and accept scientific findings about climate change expose his limitations and weaknesses.
For social movements and climate justice campaigners, there is a unity in understanding that the future of humanity does not rest on leaders alone. In the US, big climate protests are already happening. Huge protests in different countries will continue to express opposition against Trump, as well as the more important efforts to propose alternatives.
[Abridged from Global Justice Now.]