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President Trump’s Paris Exit Was Not Only Shameful But Pointless

President Trump’s dream to bring back coal jobs will remain just that—a dream.

05/06/2017 3:07 PM IST | Updated 05/06/2017 3:28 PM IST
Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

Just as the sun was setting in Berlin, President Trump's speech began to broadcast live at a quaint Senegalese café where I was eating. The patrons—diverse in race, gender and nationality—heaved a collective sigh of disappointment when the US President announced Americas' withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.

Soon after, condemnation from world leaders past and present followed. France, Germany and Italy issued a joint statement blocking any US attempt to renegotiate Paris. French President Macron went one step further and addressed the American people directly on climate change, bypassing President Trump, much like the US has done in the past to adversarial regimes.

[Trump] is looking to bring the lost coal sector jobs back... this will be next to impossible as coal has been replaced by other domestic energy sources—natural gas and renewables.

The Paris Agreement has sought to limit global average temperature rise to below 2°C below pre-industrial levels. The human mind may not quickly understand the implications of such a "small" average temperature change, but this will lead (and is already leading) to increased frequencies of storms and other extreme weather events, desertification, water shortages, climate refugee crises, the spread of diseases, and several other adverse outcomes globally.

The US now joins Nicaragua and Syria in not being a part of the Paris Agreement. Every other nation on the planet is a party to the agreement. In fact, Nicaragua is not a signatory only because it believes the agreement does not do enough to combat climate change.

While making the announcement, President Trump singled out China and India for getting a favourable deal, ignoring not only that both China and India have more ambitious renewable energy targets than the US, but also that on a per capita basis, U.S. emits two times as much CO2 than the Chinese, and 10 times more than Indians do.

Of course, these are only recent annual numbers. CO2 emissions don't work like economic activity. Emissions accumulate over time, and the US's historical emissions, when compared to China and India, are higher still.

President Trump's target audience, of course, is domestic. He is looking to bring the lost coal sector jobs back. As things stand, this will be next to impossible as coal has been replaced by other domestic energy sources—natural gas and renewables. In fact, gas and renewables now employ more workers than the coal sector in the US.

It is also an irony that as the US pulls out, oil companies including ExxonMobil, BP and Royal Dutch Shell have publicly come in support of the Paris Agreement.

Additionally, renewable energy and natural gas are increasingly cost competitive with coal, even without subsidies. President Trump's dream to bring back coal jobs will remain just that—a dream.

Internationally too, China and Europe have stepped into leadership roles in the vacuum the US has left behind. This is something that must have played on the minds of Defense Secretary Mattis and Secretary of State Tillerson, both of who have advocated that the U.S. stay committed to the Paris Agreement. In Donald Trump, the US has a President who does not heed two of his most important officials.

It is also an irony that as the US pulls out, oil companies including ExxonMobil, BP and Royal Dutch Shell have publicly come in support of the Paris Agreement. Former Secretary of State John Kerry minced no words when he remarked, "This choice will rightly be remembered as one of the most shameful any President has made."

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