How the Paris Agreement Actually Fits With Trump's 'America First' Agenda - Pacific Standard

How the Paris Agreement Actually Fits With Trump's 'America First' Agenda

On Tuesday, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres made the nationalist case for remaining in the Paris Agreement.
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United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks on climate action at the New York University Stern School of Business in New York on May 30th, 2017.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks on climate action at the New York University Stern School of Business in New York on May 30th, 2017. 

The world is anxiously awaiting President Donald Trump to announce whether or not the United States will remain in the Paris Agreement. The "will he?/won't he?" saga raged on this morning, with several major news outlets reporting that Trump has made a final decision to pull out (though the president himself continues to put off his official announcement).

World leaders, major corporations, several members of Trump's own administration, and even Pope Francis have all made the case to the president to stick it out, but a weekend scoop from Axios suggests that Trump might have already decided to leave.

Perhaps it's not surprising that a president whose governing philosophy is "America first" would choose, in the end, to side with nationalists like Senior White House Strategist Steve Bannon and climate skeptics like Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt. Both have tried—and may have succeeded—in convincing Trump that the voluntary climate accord will somehow hurt the U.S. economy or present legal impediments for the president's efforts to roll back environmental regulations like the Clean Power Plan.

"If you leave a void for others to occupy, you might be creating a problem to your own internal security."

Still, at a Q&A at New York University's Stern School of Business on Tuesday, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres suggested that remaining in the global agreement would not actually be at odds with the current administration's nationalist leanings. A former Portuguese prime minister, Guterres asked the physics students in the room to recall the centuries-long myth that nature abhors a vacuum. "It's proven now that a vacuum can exist in physics," Guterres said, "but a vacuum cannot exist in geostrategic dimensions." He went on:

"If one country decides to leave a void, I can guarantee that someone else will occupy it. And it's very clear now that it's not only the Russias and the Chinas that are occupying the ground; if you look at the Saudi Arabias, the Turkeys, the Irans, the regional powers in many parts of the world, when the big powers leave some space, they will occupy it. Sometimes this then has consequences, especially when everything is linked. Today, the economy and the social aspects are linked to the environment aspects, but they're also linked to the security aspects; they are linked to the risks of conflicts ... and linked to the new threat of global terrorism, we have seen what happened in Manchester just a few days ago. So if you leave a void for others to occupy, you might be creating a problem to your own internal security."

In other words, as the U.S. scales back international involvement, it also scales back international influence, and other countries, whose interests may or may not be aligned with our own, will step in to fill that void.

Of course, Guterres noted, governments are not the only force behind climate action. Regardless of Trump's decision, U.S. cities, states, and businesses will likely remain engaged in the Paris Agreement and its goals. "It is very clear that governments are not everything," Guterres said, calling the apparent rise in authoritarianism a reaction to the fact that "governments are losing power everywhere."

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