Professor Hammond on President Trump's Paris Climate Decision: What's Next?

June 02, 2017

On Thursday, June 1, President Donald Trump announced that he will formally withdraw the United States from the Paris climate change agreement. The agreement was signed in December 2015. The aim is to cut greenhouse gas emissions and keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius; nearly 200 countries met in Paris and agreed to take steps to mitigate global warming. The only countries that are not a part of the agreement are Nicaragua and Syria. Professor Emily Hammond shared her thoughts and predictions on the president's decision in a new Q&A.

Why is Trump pulling out, and what happens now?

Throughout the first few months of the presidency, it seemed open to speculation whether Trump would pull out of the Paris Agreement. On one hand, doing so would be consistent with his utter rejection of scientific consensus and his callous disregard for the humanitarian, economic, and environmental consequences of climate change–after all, he called it a Chinese "hoax." On the other hand, Trump has worked so hard to undo climate leadership at the federal level, that it almost didn't matter whether he pulled out of the Paris Agreement. The withdrawal process will take several years, but there is also a process by which a future president could rejoin the Agreement. The most immediate impact is to our country's reputation: we have now left global leadership to others. The consequences to diplomacy are sure to be far-reaching.

What does pulling out of the agreement mean for renewable energy?

Trump was already working fervently to undermine the market forces and state policies that have spurred renewable energy in the past several years. Further, in his Executive Order on climate change, he clearly signaled his intentions to demolish federal efforts to protect us from climate change. But the authority to decide what power plants are built lies with the states, not the federal government. And coal, especially, is struggling because of market forces–it can't keep up with non-emitting renewables or lower-emissions natural gas, no matter how loudly Trump tweets otherwise. During the Bush Administration, states moved forward on their own to ensure a cleaner energy profile–and they have pledged to continue doing so now.

What does it mean for emerging technologieswill this change how people are doing work in these industries and innovations?

Well before the decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, Trump also signaled his intention to slash funding for energy innovations. We will see if Congress is willing to go that far, but in the meantime, the larger, more symbolic aspects of this withdrawal may well incentivize clean energy leaders to take their business–and their jobs–elsewhere. Regarding our country's production of scientific knowledge more generally, make no mistake: we should be very concerned that the United States will further fall in international power if it destroys its infrastructure for research, development, and scientific inquiry.

Individual states have said they would try to join the Agreement–what does that mean? 

Individual states, local governments, and businesses do not have authority to become parties to the Paris Agreement–that authority resides with nations. Still, their pledges to work toward keeping our country's commitments are significant and provide reason for optimism. As noted above, we have suffered a lack of federal leadership on clean climate policies in the past; the difference now is that far more states, local governments, and businesses are energized. The climate change clock is ticking; let's hope we can look back on this moment as a rallying point for increased efforts around the globe to race against that clock.