EUROPEUM Institute for European Policy

The drills are pumping, the oil is flowing, and hundreds of thousands of laborers are swarming around, proudly putting their hands to work, each one representing a perfectly fitting clog in the machine called the United States of America. Nobody is worried about the millions of metric tons of CO2 this activity is generating or the sustainability of this business venture; there is enough oil to last for centuries and the demand for it will always be there, because there is no better alternative. Welcome to the US at the beginning of the 20th century – and Donald Trump’s dreamland!

Alas, the world has changed and it is no longer possible to ignore the negative effects that human industrial production has on global environment and climate. For that reason, laboriously reached joint international agreements such as the one from Paris should be cherished. It is thus without much surprise that the scientific community called Trump’s commencing presidency “a disaster for the planet” when the details of his America First Energy Plan emerged. This official document states that within the first 100 days in office, Trump is “[…] going to cancel the Paris Climate Agreement and stop all payments of U.S. tax dollars to U.N. global warming programs,” even though he has been notably silent on the issue since officially assuming presidency and reports emerged of his key advisers being divided about the “cancellation”.

While naturally being detrimental to the global climate efforts, Trump’s shortsighted thinking might do more harm than good to those he most pledges to protect – the American workers.

Should the US withdraw from the Paris Agreement commitments and scrap the Clean Power Plan (the key instrument for reducing US greenhouse gas emissions and spearheading the country’s transition to cleaner energy), the consequences would be far-reaching. Not only would that increase the risk for American citizens to suffer from air and water pollution and associated health complications, but it would also negatively impact American job development in a sector which is poised to grow in the upcoming years, but which relies on government funding for further research and innovations.

Even though Trump might not have realized it (or accepted it), the tide is now turning away from the fossil fuels and towards the renewables. The global number of jobs in renewable energy sectors is growing steadily every year, and even in the US, the employment in solar business has already surpassed that of both oil and gas extraction and coal mining. Moreover, a growing number of companies, charities and funds have committed themselves to divestment from fossil fuels (most notably perhaps the Rockefeller family charity, which has pledged to withdraw all its stakes in fossil fuel companies). Besides, even the oil giant ExxonMobil has acknowledged that it is now necessary to invest into technologies that help curb emissions. Thus, turning the US away from clean energy will not reverse the global trends; it will only deprive the US of its competitive advantage.

Leaving the Paris Agreement would also harm America’s position as the lead international negotiator and standard-setter. One-sidedly backtracking on a deal the US already committed itself to could bring about undesirable diplomatic repercussions. We might even see a previously inconceivable situation when the US is rebuked by China for its insufficient environmental standards – the Chinese president has already warned countries to “refrain from pursuing their own interests at the expense of others.” And it might not end with rebuking; if the US lowers its carbon regulations, and thus alleviates the burden on its manufacturers, other countries might choose to impose extra taxes on imported US products in order to offset the country’s uneven playing field.

Furthermore, simply leaving the place at the negotiating table would undermine US national interests, as other countries would gladly take over the role of a rule-maker that the US has worked hard to gain over the past years.

The US has for example pushed hard for the establishment of an independent and transparent reviewing body to regularly monitor countries’ progress on the Paris Agreement pledges. Getting China to agree to this measure took a considerable diplomatic effort and should the US now abandon the pact, its influence would be undermined; let alone how damaging the backstabbing of a major climate deal would be for America’s soft power.

From a long term perspective, the unintended consequences of Trump’s attempt at swimming against the tide of history will certainly not put America First, but rather leave it somewhere in the back room, lagging behind on innovations and development and facing contempt from the rest of the world.

Kateřina Davidová

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