Why Donald Trump's climate decision makes America insignificant again

Instead of helping US companies, President Donald Trump is hurting them down the track.
REUTERS

Instead of helping US companies, President Donald Trump is hurting them down the track.

OPINION: On Friday, June 2, US President Donald Trump announced that the US federal government is withdrawing from the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. Although this is bad for the planet, it is also leading America on the path of insignificance.

Why is it bad for the planet? The atmosphere is part of the global commons: a common-pool resource in its function as a sink for carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Currently, it is openly accessible and appropriated by everyone.

Oceans, forests and other ecosystems are closely linked to the atmospheric sink and provide services by absorbing a fraction of the anthropogenic CO2 emissions. In recent years, however, their sink capacity has begun to decline.

Climate change expert Jim Salinger says Trump's America will be left behind by more progressive economies.
MURRAY WILSON/STUFF

Climate change expert Jim Salinger says Trump's America will be left behind by more progressive economies.

Congesting the atmosphere with greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions leads to dangerous and potentially catastrophic climate change, affecting everyone.

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Currently, the US emits 16 per cent of global GHG emissions, the second highest after China. However, over the period 1850 to 2011, the US was the top emitter, accounting for 27 per cent of global emissions.

Thus, by withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement, it is being a terrible global citizen, together with Syria and Nicaragua - three out of 197 countries. Nicaragua did not think the accord went far enough. 

Calculations suggest the withdrawal could result in emissions of up to three billion tons of additional carbon dioxide in the air a year. Computer simulations by climate scientists put the effect of the US pulling out somewhere between 0.1 and 0.3 degrees Celsius by 2100. The noose tightens if we decrease our global emissions reductions target.

So why is it bad for the US?

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Firstly, it puts the country on an isolationist path from the other nations of the world. It may not matter that Nicaragua and Syria are out, but the US is now out of step with the rest of the G7, and now, China. The withdrawal has been roundly condemned in diplomatic terms by the UN, France, Italy and Germany. It is also pushing the EU and China closer together in a common cause.

Former president Barack Obama had put the US in a global leadership role, together with China, at the Paris Climate Agreement. Now Trump, in "acting like a CEO", has surrendered this leadership role to China and the EU. It undermines the US's standing in the world. 

It will now sink in the respect of the world and be marginalised in any climate talks unless there is a change in attitude of the leadership, or a change in leadership. Very damaging in global diplomacy.

The decision, with the reduction of environmental protection regulations for "drill, baby, drill", also surrenders the huge potential in clean energy jobs in the US. 

China and India are moving - both of them much, much faster than anyone expected. China's closing down coal mines at rapid speed. These countries are moving much faster into electrical mobility in the big cities than anyone thought. So don't underestimate China and India. They're fast catching up with the United States.

And in the end, if the US is not vigilant, all the fantastic new jobs in the renewable energies will simply go to China and India. The total number of clean energy jobs threatened in the states that supported Trump are estimated at 1.2 million - much more than in the dying dinosaur fossil fuel industry.

By 2025, many of the jobs in these sectors will not be there. This is recognised by oil giants Exxon Mobil and ConocoPhillips.

If ever there was a decision contrary to the US's business and economic interests, this may be it. Corporate America already knows this. That's why many leading US companies like General Electric and 3M urged the president to stay in the Paris Agreement, which would allow the US a greater say in how the agreement evolves. This withdrawal puts American businesses last.

Fortunately, there is huge pushback within the US, most notably the state of California. It has been joined by the states of New York, Oregon and Washington. 

Riding the latest high-tech boom and an overall state-wide surge, California has leapfrogged France and Brazil to become the world's sixth-largest economy, representing 5.3 per cent of global GDP – and high growth in renewable jobs. Congratulations to Governor Jerry Brown. This is the great hope.

Trump wishes to make America great again, but his withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement - although bad for the planet - is disastrous for the US: he is rapidly making America insignificant again.

* Dr Jim Salinger is a New Zealand climate scientist who is an honorary research fellow at the University of Otago and deputy editor of scientific journal Climatic Change.

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