In an inexplicable abdication of any semblance of responsibility or leadership, Donald Trump has announced that he will begin the process to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate treaty, joining Nicaragua and Syria as the only world countries rejecting the agreement. It now seems inevitable that the history books will view Trump as America’s worst-ever president.
Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris treaty is a mostly symbolic act. America’s pledges to cut its carbon pollution were non-binding, and his administration’s policies to date had already made it impossible for America to meet its initial Paris climate commitment for 2025. The next American president in 2020 can re-enter the Paris treaty and push for policies to make up some of the ground we lost during Trump’s reign.
However, withdrawing from the Paris treaty is an important symbolic move – a middle finger to the rest of the world, and to future generations. America is by far the largest historical contributor to climate change. Ironically, on the heels of Trump’s claim that most NATO members aren’t paying their fair share to the organization, America has announced that we won’t do our fair share to curb the climate change threats that we are the most responsible for.
The Rotting Republican Party
And the GOP has become the Party of Trump. His decision was reinforced by a letter from 22 Republican senators urging withdrawal from the Paris climate treaty. Those senators have coincidentally received over $10m in donations from the fossil fuel industry over the past five years.
Their reasoning was dubious at best, arguing that environmental attorneys will cite the international agreement in their efforts to prevent the Trump administration from eliminating President Obama’s Clean Power Plan. By law, the US government is required to regulate carbon pollution under the Clean Air Act, because it poses a threat to public welfare. The Republican Senators wrote:
Environmentalists will argue that these [Clean Air Act] Section 115 requirements are, in fact, met more easily by the Paris Agreement because it includes enhanced transparency requirements in Article 13, which establishes a process for nations to submit plans to reduce emissions to one another and then to comment on the plans of one another.
As National Resource Defense Council climate and clean air program senior attorney David Doniger explained to me, this argument is nonsense:
They are making things up. EPA did not rely on Paris to justify the Clean Power Plan, and none of the parties defending the Plan has cited Paris as a legal basis. On Clean Air Act Section 115, no one I know has made, or even thought of, this argument.