Given his morbidly impressive track record of saying and doing the worst possible things, Donald Trump has somehow managed to outdo himself once again. But it might not be as bad as it seems.
The first term of the 45th President of the United States’ term has thus far been defined by his consistent ability to lower the proverbial bar, even when everyone thinks he has finally reached rock bottom. Exiting the Paris Climate Deal is just the latest example of his uncanny proficiency in regressiveness.
Naturally, to the rest of the world, this is worse than anything to have come before. The symbolism of the world’s second largest CO2 emitter rejecting a treaty that was even ratified by the likes of North Korea is not lost on anyone.
I called the treaty farcical at the time due to its non binding nature. But, by virtue of my work, I have been able to personally witness the ambition of many governments world wide to abide by the treaty of their own volition. The treaty isn’t perfect, but it’s by far the best we’ve got.
Things admittedly look rather bleak right now. But there is cause for cautious hope.
First, Article 28 of the treaty stipulates that, once ratified, a country must remain in it for three years, after which notice must be given, with actual withdrawal taking another year. Officially, the US cannot exit the treaty until November 2020 at the earliest. This also happens to be when Trump will be up for re-election.
There is a risk that Trump could unilaterally exit the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) - upon which the Paris agreement is based. This process would only take one year. However, early reports seem to suggest this is not on the agenda.
Trump, per a source, will follow the 4-yr rule to get out of Paris, meaning the US will leave on Nov 4, 2020.
Election Day 2020: Nov 3.
— Dan Merica (@danmericaCNN) June 1, 2017
What this means is that a Democrat victory in 2020 could see the US re-enter the treaty by 2021, presumably with a mandate to increase its commitments.
Second, the response of 82 mayors, in an open letter published on Thursday, is encouraging. Presently, the main risk is that nothing can stop Trump from rolling back implementative measures at the federal level. But the letter affirmed the Mayors’ commitments to “intensify efforts to meet each of our cities’ current climate goals, push for new action to meet the 1.5 degrees Celsius target, and work together to create a 21st century clean energy economy”.
California’s Governor, Jerry Brown, called Trump’s withdrawal a “misguided and insane course of action,” declaring his state “ready for battle.” The Governors of New York and Washington, Andrew Cuomo and Jay Inslee, together announced the creation of the United States Climate Alliance, “a coalition that will convene US states committed to upholding the Paris Climate Agreement and taking aggressive action on climate change.”
Mr Trump even got called out by Arnold Schwarzenegger:
There is massive potential - particularly in a federal system like the US - for cities and states to continue to do their part despite national policy changes. American activists can build on this letter of intent to grow a grassroots climate movement intent on opposing Trump’s anti-intellectual stance.
Of course, countering the emissions of the world leader in pollution per capita will require a redoubling of efforts from the international community. Which is why our third and final reason for cautious optimism is the most important.
A joint statement by French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni (with Theresa May a notable absence) called on world leaders to accelerate their efforts to fight climate change. The French and German leader even said that “Germany and France will grasp at new initiatives in order to ensure the climate agreement is a success”.
Canada, Brazil, Japan, New Zealand, Australia and many other countries all expressed their disappointment in Trump’s decision whilst reaffirming their own commitments to the treaty.
At this stage, these are obviously just words. But the groundwork has already been set for a concerted, global effort (with certain pockets of the US included) on climate action, despite Trump’s decision. If we all follow through, there is no reason to believe we can’t achieve what the treaty set out.