Greenpeace International Executive Director Jennifer Morgan. 14 Apr, 2016 © Bas Beentjes / Greenpeace
Greenpeace International Executive Director Jennifer Morgan. 14 Apr, 2016 © Bas Beentjes / Greenpeace

Trump abandons the Paris Climate Agreement. How bad is that?

In short, yes it’s bad. But the world moves on.  Greenpeace International Executive Director Jennifer Morgan answers your questions.

What does Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement mean for the fate of the climate?

The US is one of the largest emitters of carbon, so Trump’s recent acts of rolling back national action on climate, coupled with a withdrawal from Paris, will make it harder to keep the climate under the critical threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming.

That said, Trump’s decisions won’t determine much of what happens on climate internationally or even in the US. Close to 200 countries, accounting for 87 percent of global emissions, remain committed to the Paris Agreement. The same goes with a growing number of states, cities and major businesses who’ve made clear that they’re still in.

Trump will not be able to stop the renewable energy revolution, but we do need to respond, as a global community, by working even harder to accelerate climate action further.

How important is the Paris Agreement in the fight against climate change?

The Paris agreement is an historic, generation-defining agreement, that signals the end of the fossil fuel era. The speed at which almost every country around the world committed to its revolutionary global goals, and then ratified the agreement, signaled the urgency of the threat we face. But it is only one step on a long road. What matters now is how every country implements the agreement and accelerates change. Paris was just the start, not the end of a journey that will free us from carbon pollution. We have a long way to go.

Does the US leaving mean that the Paris agreement is dead?

Absolutely not! The Paris Agreement is alive and well. At the G7 Summit, Europe, Canada and Japan reaffirmed their strong commitment to swiftly implement the agreement. Greenpeace is now calling on leaders to ensure that the G20 signals even greater climate ambition.

Trump may try and take parts of the US backwards, but the rest of the world is charging ahead. Since November 2016, when Trump was elected, the Paris Agreement has been formally joined by another 76 countries.

Countries remain committed because it serves their national interests – both in terms of preventing climate hazards and seizing the opportunities a transition to clean energy is providing. And it’s quite amazing, really, to see the impossible becoming possible in front of our eyes. For example, solar and wind power are now cheaper than fossil fuels without subsidies in more than 30 countries and renewable energy investments now beat fossil fuels 2 to 1 in new power generation investments worldwide.

A world powered by renewables means healthier communities and stronger economies. As an American myself, I am deeply frustrated seeing the US President rejecting such an obvious step forward for the country in favor of rewarding his friends in the fossil fuel industry.

So no, the Paris agreement is not dead. It’s the Trump approach that is dead on arrival and getting no sympathy from other countries.

How can the US do this? Does it face any consequences for leaving the accord?

Well, if Trump actually manages to slow down global action on climate, it’s the Americans themselves who will pay a high price for it too. Climate change is a major threat for the US – from higher sea-levels to increases in extreme heat events and other weather hazards across the country or heightened security risks.

In the short-term, the biggest consequence for the US is political. All major countries are invested in a successful Paris agreement, and withdrawing undercuts the US’ ability to advance its foreign policy priorities with those same countries.

As noted, a number of leaders after the G7 Summit, indicated governments would lose confidence in the US as a trusted partner that honours its commitments, not only on climate change but across trade, security and other issues. It will actually undermine Trump’s other priorities, as the he will no longer be viewed as a trustworthy partner.

Where does this leave the US now?

Trump does not represent the entire US on climate change. In terms, of cities, states, citizens and corporates, action is moving ahead and they are partnering with other countries to accelerate climate action and the adoption of solutions.

In terms of the Presidency, clearly Trump is surrendering US global leadership to real world leaders who are seizing the momentum to protect their citizens while transforming their economies to clean energy. We are witnessing a seismic shift in the global order as Europe, China and others lead the way forward.

After committing to climate action in Paris, only one country out of close to 200 has decided to withdraw. This is how far out of step Trump is with the rest of the world. It is the changing of the global guard – as the US bows out, world leaders, CEOs and people across the world can and are moving forward into the future.

Does Trump’s decision mean the resurgence of oil and coal? What will happen to renewables?

No. Trump might be able to slow the clean energy transition in the US, and kill a lot of American jobs and economic opportunities on the way, but he cannot stop it. Pure economics work against him.

As solar and wind power become increasingly cheaper, coal is taking a hit around the world. Last year marked an astonishing turning point for coal as three of the G7 countries announced a coal phase-out, construction of new coal plants was frozen in over 100 sites in China and India, plant retirements continued in the US and the EU and globally the world saw a dramatic 62 % decline in construction starts. Coal is in an inevitable decline as a fuel of the past.

Even America’s biggest coal boss Robert Murray admits that Trump can’t bring back coal mining jobs, because those jobs were lost to technology and competition from cleaner energy sources, rather than regulation. And indeed, solar alone already employs more than double as many Americans as coal. And with the solar and wind industries both already creating jobs 12 times faster than the rest of the US economy, I don’t think these sectors and people will just sit there and wait to be dragged down. They will fight back – which Trump will soon have to face.

Are there any countries that are doing the right thing on climate change – countries that can lead the world forward?

The Climate Vulnerable Forum, a group of 48 countries most vulnerable to climate change, have probably most to lose. So it’s no wonder that they’re now aiming for 100 percent renewables, and are ready to take leadership in strengthening their national commitments under the Paris agreement.

China, then again, is the world’s biggest polluter, and heavily dependent on coal. So it has a long way to go. But the speed at which China has started to transform its energy system in recent years is hugely encouraging. Coal has peaked in China. The country already boasts the world’s biggest installed capacity of wind and solar power and can be expected to lead in electric vehicles and batteries, freeing transport solutions from oil.

Germany, as the chair of the G20 this year, is doing the right thing by showing political leadership and ensuring climate change remains a top international and national priority.
What are some of the core commitments of countries in the Paris agreement?

The Paris agreement commits all parties to start preparing for a world that frees itself from fossil fuels, forest clearance and other harmful practices. Each of them is to develop a long-term plan for transforming their economies, shifting their financial flows from problems to solutions, preparing for the impacts that no longer can be prevented and supporting and protecting the vulnerable.

Countries are also expected to meet their nationally determined contributions that they each have put forward, and to scale up that action every five years until the long-term target, a zero-carbon economy, is met. The agreement is very clear that any rolling back, or weakening, of national contributions is not permitted.

What can governments do to fight back against Trump’s decision?

World leaders must stay the course and accelerate climate action – this will hit Trump the hardest as the US will miss out on the economic benefits. In fact, everyone must push forward with even greater ambition, to bridge the gap the US is leaving and to prove Trump wrong. This is as much as if not more the case for US states and businesses that have the responsibility and opportunity to counteract the actions of Trump.

What can people do to fight back?

Every person matters and should take action? – whether that be in how they engage in political debates, what they buy, who they talk to or who they vote for. Climate change is a global problem, but solutions need to be rolled out at the local level everywhere. There’s a lot you can do about it in your daily life. We must keep the pressure on our national leaders to step up the fight against climate change but also hold businesses and CEOs accountable for their actions. Greenpeace will work with everyone committed to a smarter, safer and fairer future.

What gives you hope at a deeply disappointing moment like this?

The people I meet around the world who are active and engaged are what gives me hope. From the child teaching her parents, to the parent engaging with their elected officials, to the principals installing solar panels on their schools – this is what is and will make a difference. We are bigger than the interests opposing action and we have to remember that. We have to stay optimistic and we have to continue to support each other, especially during the most urgent challenges. The planet and everyone who depends on it ?are worth the fight.

This blog was originally posted by Greenpeace on Medium.