The harm of leav­ing the Paris ac­cord

Stay­ing in the land­mark cli­mate agree­ment is cost­less, while with­draw­ing would spark sus­tained global ou­trage.

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION -

THE NEW YORK TIMES re­ports that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has di­vided over whether to re­move the United States from the Paris cli­mate agree­ment, a land­mark in­ter­na­tional deal with vast diplo­matic and en­vi­ron­men­tal sig­nif­i­cance. With­draw­ing — or ask­ing the Se­nate to de­cide what to do, which is ef­fec­tively the same thing — would be an enor­mous and pos­si­bly ir­repara­ble er­ror. This is not a hard call: Stay­ing in the agree­ment is cost­less, while leav­ing would rightly pro­voke sharp and sus­tained in­ter­na­tional ou­trage.

The Paris agree­ment does not for­mally ob­li­gate the United States to make any par­tic­u­lar level of emis­sions cuts. All it does is ask coun­tries to an­nounce emis­sions plans of their choos­ing and re­port on their progress. It has no ma­jor im­pli­ca­tions for U.S. sovereignty and de­mands no par­tic­u­lar pol­icy bal­ance be­tween en­vi­ron­men­tal and in­dus­trial con­cerns. If the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion wants to move that bal­ance to­ward fos­sil fuel in­ter­ests, it does not have to leave the Paris agree­ment to do so.

Pres­i­dent Trump could mod­ify the U.S. Paris com­mit­ment, or sim­ply leave Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s Paris pledge in place. Although Mr. Trump has promised to rip up ma­jor el­e­ments of Mr. Obama’s cli­mate plan, other poli­cies, such as con­gres­sion­ally man­dated re­new­ables sub­si­dies and state-level ef­forts, would con­tinue apace. Crush­ing the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency’s Clean Power Plan would ill-pre­pare the coun­try for the sig­nif­i­cant emis­sions cuts that it will have to make in com­ing decades, but it would not keep the na­tion from re­duc­ing its emis­sions by more mod­est lev­els in the near term. If the coun­try is go­ing to be achiev­ing emis­sions cuts any­way, why not take some in­ter­na­tional credit for them?

Given all that, leav­ing Paris would be noth­ing more than a gra­tu­itous thumb in the eye of prac­ti­cally ev­ery im­por­tant na­tion on the planet, a bizarre and ir­ra­tional un­forced er­ror.

The Times re­ports that Ivanka Trump and oth­ers push­ing to stay in the Paris agree­ment might be mol­li­fied if the pres­i­dent de­clared that deal is a treaty that re­quires Se­nate rat­i­fi­ca­tion, toss­ing its fate into law­mak­ers’ hands. This is just an­other way to kill it, a ruse that would trick no for­eign gov­ern­ment. Dur­ing the Paris ne­go­ti­a­tions, in­ter­na­tional diplo­mats bent over back­ward to ac­com­mo­date the U.S. po­lit­i­cal sys­tem, specif­i­cally de­sign­ing an agree­ment that re­lies on purely vol­un­tary, non­bind­ing emis­sions com­mit­ments from ev­ery ma­jor pol­lut­ing na­tion. Many gov­ern­ments would have much pre­ferred a treaty with legally manda­tory emis­sions re­quire­ments. But they rec­og­nized that the Se­nate, where ru­ral and en­ergy in­ter­ests are quite pow­er­ful, would cer­tainly scut­tle it.

Nei­ther Ms. Trump nor any­one else in the White House should imag­ine that the global re­ac­tion would be any dif­fer­ent if the pres­i­dent, in ef­fect, asks the Se­nate to do his dirty work for him rather than sim­ply with­draw­ing from the Paris agree­ment him­self. Like it or not, cli­mate change has be­come a cen­tral con­cern on the global stage that drives a great deal of mod­ern diplo­macy. And for good rea­son: The only work­able re­sponse to the threat is an in­ter­na­tional one based on U.S. lead­er­ship and mu­tual trust. Pulling out of Paris would use­lessly un­der­mine both.

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