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The U.S.'s Exit From the Paris Agreement Could Spell Disaster Not Just for the Environment, but Also for Our Economy

We finally have some clarity on what the U.S.'s role in global climate action will be going forward, but the implications of that new role remain uncertain.
Coal plant

President Donald Trump on Thursday finally pulled the trigger on the United States' exit from the Paris Agreement—ignoring the pleas of world leaders, major corporations, several trusted advisors, his daughter, the Pope, and even some energy companies.

We now finally have some clarity on the U.S.'s role (or relative lack thereof) in global climate action going forward, though the implications of that new role remain uncertain. The U.S. has officially abandoned the Paris Agreement, but what will be the consequences?

  • Reducing U.S. emissions—which account for about 17 percent of global emissions—is a lost cause. Not only did Trump walk away from the U.S. Paris pledges, but he rolled back the Obama-era programs like the Clean Power Plan necessary to help us achieve those goals. But even without those regulations, market forces are driving the U.S. economy toward renewable energy and away from coal and oil, which means that, even though U.S. emissions may not be dropping by 2030 as required in the Paris Agreement, by some estimates they'll at least remain flat.
  • Still, without U.S. participation, it will be much harder for the world to keep warming below two degrees Celsius—the threshold beyond which humans may no longer be able to prevent dangerous, runaway climate change. Less optimistic emissions projections suggest that leaving the accord could result in an extra three billion tons of carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere every year, with the U.S. alone responsible for up to a half a degree of global warming—accelerating ice melt, sea level rise, and the frequency and severity of extreme weather. If other countries follow in Trump's footsteps, the environmental effects could be much graver.
  • By catering to the declining coal industry, the U.S. would lose ground in the expanding clean energy sector, which could be a $6 trillion market globally by 2030, according to the World Resources Institute. And the increasing hostility to climate science in the U.S. could have a "brain drain" effect, driving innovators to other countries like France, which is already welcoming American scientists. "We want innovative people, we want people working on climate change, energy, renewables and new technologies," French President Emmanuel Macron wrote in a tweet. "France is your nation."
  • If the past is any indication, the most certain consequences would be diplomatic. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell called the European Union's fierce response to President George W. Bush pulling out of the Kyoto protocol "a sobering experience." Even before Trump officially announced the U.S. departure from the agreement, the European Union and China doubled down on their commitments to the climate deal. China will almost certainly step into the leadership void left by the U.S., which could have significant effects on the success of signatories' emissions reduction goals. China may be dedicated to the agreement, but the processes by which countries measure the success of their emissions reduction programs, which are still being hammered out, would almost certainly become less transparent. The U.S. has pushed for outside evaluations of countries' emissions, while China has pushed for internal—and potentially unreliable—tools.