It is difficult to claim President Donald Trump’s decision last week to withdraw the United States from the Paris accord on climate change will necessarily have a negative long-term effect on the environment.
First, members of the agreement must wait three years before they are eligible to withdraw, which means Trump’s first term will be nearly over by the time the withdrawal takes place. If Trump doesn’t win a second term, the next president could rejoin the accord in as little as 30 days.
Trump also has said he is open to rejoining the accord if the United States can secure better terms, so it’s possible—maybe even likely—that the country’s actual absence from the accord will end up being very short.
Second, the accord was non-binding, meaning the U.S. doesn’t have to withdraw to avoid meeting its obligations—a pledge to cut its greenhouse gas emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 and commit up to $3 billion in aid for poorer countries by 2020.
Some have argued it will be better for the accord in the long run if the United States withdraws than if we remain a member and simply ignore our obligations.
Still, the decision was yet another sign the Trump administration is dismissive of science and uninterested in America’s role as a leader on the global stage.
Fortunately, the reaction to Trump’s announcement has been encouraging. A clear majority of Americans disagrees with the decision to withdraw. More important, business leaders, companies and local and state governments have lined up to pledge that the United States will meet its obligations even without Trump’s approval.
If the U.S. is going to do its part to fight the real threat of climate change, Trump’s decision must be viewed not as permission to relax environmentally friendly practices but as a challenge to do more to protect the planet for future generations.
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