Trump and the Paris Agreement

Climate change


President Trump Withdraws the United States from the Paris Climate Accords
Trump and the Paris Agreement
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I. Environmental protection trends

During the mid-1980s, the world first became aware of the severity of global warming. However, at that time, legislators of individual countries were unable to enact measures that would address this issue effectively.

  • We have been able to accurately measure the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere since 1958.
  • Becoming increasingly alarmed by the rapidly rising atmospheric carbon levels, representatives from developed countries gathered in Stockholm in 1972 to discuss potential regulations.
  • The economic boom of the 1980s was accompanied by an alarming rise in CO2 levels. Scientists and the press pushed further for the enactment of policy measures to counter this trend.
  • In 1992, representatives from governments and NGOs participated in the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit, where the coalition launched the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), a treaty with the objective to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations, and formed a conference of the parties (COP).
  • However, this summit did not establish an independent body that would enforce environmental regulations, nor were there severe consequences outlined for treaty violations. As a result, efforts to address climate issues never came to fruition.

In 1997, participants of the UNFCCC adopted the Kyoto [1]Protocol in Kyoto, Japan. The parties would commit to the reduction of greenhouse gas emission to slow global warming.

  • Attempts to regulate the UNFCCC finally succeeded in the third COP. The key agenda at the time was to reduce the emission of CO2 and five other greenhouse gases.
  • In the third COP, former US president Bill Clinton said that climate change was a global strategic threat which required bold leadership. He then enlisted the US to be one of the leading nations in slowing global warming.
  • Unlike preceding treaties, the Kyoto Protocol detailed the consequences of non-compliance.

⇒ The Kyoto Protocol was the first international treaty to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

However, the US Senate had passed a resolution expressing disapproval of international agreements such as the Kyoto Protocol which “would seriously harm the economy of the United States.” Thus, the US became the only signatory that had not ratified the protocol. This, along with regulation enforcement failures in several developing countries, led to the failure of the Kyoto Protocol.

  • When George W. Bush was elected as the president of the United States in 2000, he dismantled US participation in the Kyoto Protocol, claiming that it was unrealistic to sacrifice economic progress for the sake of the environment.
  • Japan, Canada, and other EU states also withdrew from the treaty, further degrading the legitimacy of the Protocol.
  • At the time, China, India, and other developing countries were exempt from emission limitation commitments.

The world has observed how deteriorating climate conditions can threaten the survival of humanity. This led world leaders to gather and establish the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015.

  • The Paris Climate Agreement was established as a response to the failed Kyoto Protocol. Its articles and clauses were more specific and punitive towards violations than were those of the Kyoto Protocol.
    • One aim of the agreement was to “enhance the implementation” of the UNFCCC by “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels.”
    • Each country was given a greenhouse gas emission quota.
    • Countries were to hold one another accountable.
  • George W. Bush’s successor, Barack Obama, was a staunch supporter of the Paris Climate Agreement. His commitment led China, India, and other key greenhouse gas emitting countries, as well as the participating 195 nations, to sign the agreement. The US and China’s participation pressured the EU countries to also commit.

However, with President Trump’s inauguration and his withdrawal of the US from the Paris Climate Agreement, the world yet again faces a crisis in preserving the environment.

  • On June 1, 2017, President Trump announced that the US would withdraw from the agreement.
  • Trump gave two reasons for his decision: 1) The agreement hurts US jobs, and 2) The agreement was not fair to the US when compared to the requirements mandated of India, China, and other big emitters.
  • Trump also said that he would reconsider signing the agreement, but only if the terms changed to be more favorable for the US.

Fortunately, the other signatories have rallied around this cause, attempting to salvage the Accord from failure.

  • After Trump’s announcement, 211 US Climate Mayors committed to "adopt, honor, and uphold the commitments to the goals enshrined in the Paris Climate Accord.” Since this first pronouncement, 323 mayors in total have made commitments.
  • The governors of New York, Washington, and California then formed the “United States Climate Alliance.” The governors of Vermont, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut have since joined also.
  • The leaders of France, Italy, and Germany issued a joint statement backing the Paris Accord, saying that the terms could not be renegotiated.
  • President of France Emmanuel Macron responded to Trump’s announcement with the statement, “Make our planet great again,” and offered refuge in France to climate scientists, entrepreneurs, engineers, and researchers.
  • UK Prime Minister Theresa May also engaged in a long phone call with Trump, expressing her sorrow about Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Accord and reaffirming the UK’s commitment to the cause.

II. History of Environmental Policy in the US

It is worth noting that the United States, the long-time leader of environmental activism, has changed its stance on climate change and environmental protection depending on the administration in charge.

Bill Clinton emphasized the protection of the environment as much as economic growth.

  • Economic policy: Clinton supported the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), a major free trade agreement with Canada and Mexico, as well as the Uruguay Round Agreement, which gave the US copyright protection to some works that had previously been in the public domain. Clinton knocked down most major tariffs, which led the US, and the Twin Towers, to become the hub of international trade.
  • Environmental policy: Clinton protected 58 million acres of national forests, and he vetoed several bills that could potentially harm the environment.
  • Co-dependency: Clinton nurtured the tech and innovation industries, promoting research that would promote sustainable growth. He emphasized that environmental protection and economic growth could exist side by side.
  • Impact on the federal government: Clinton hailed the Kyoto Protocol, saying that wealth creation did not necessitate carbon dioxide emission. He said that efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions could create jobs and economic growth.

George W. Bush initially seemed to support the balance between economic growth and environmental protection, but in the face of fierce lobbying, he curbed his support of the environment.

  • Economic policy: As a Republican, Bush felt pressure to keep government involvement to a minimum, lessen the tax burden, and increase consumer and commercial spending. This would boost business profitability and reduce unemployment. However, a mismanagement of policies eventually led to the Wall Street subprime mortgage crisis, which submerged the entire world in a recession.
  • Environmental policy: Bush initially seemed to support the preservation of the environment. However, he quickly [2]commissioned the construction of coal-fired power plants and approved a nuclear waste facility in Texas in exchange for a small fine.
  • Impact on the federal government: The Bush Administration claimed that the Kyoto Protocol hurt the American economy and refused to sign the agreement. This eventually led to the death of the Kyoto Protocol.

Barack Obama, a president whose aims were to aid citizens as well as to protect the environment, led the charge to draft and pass the Paris Climate Accord.

  • Economic policy: Obama approved of tax reductions for 95% of workers, in exchange for a tax increase for those with an income greater than $250,000. Rather than boosting the finances of large corporations, Obama’s policies aided the development of small enterprises and financed low-wage workers.
  • Environmental policy: Rather than forcing the country away from its reliance on fossil fuels, Obama poured $1.5 billion into research on eco-technology and sustainable energy, creating 5 million environmentally-friendly jobs to boost the economy.
  • Impact on the federal government: Despite harsh criticism from the Republican Party, Obama firmly pushed through the Paris Climate Accord, making the agreement a core part of his legacy.

Trumpeting his “America First” foreign policy slogan, Trump has been dismantling Obama’s legacy, [3]brick by brick. His protectionist measures run counter to global trade trends.

  • Economic policy: To make “America First” a reality, Trump is attempting to bring back traditional manufacturing jobs, investing in large infrastructure, cutting taxes, and signing off on protectionist measures.
  • Environmental policy: Renewable energy has been bumped down the priority list, making space for coal mines and jobs in the fossil fuel industry.
  • Prioritizing economic revival over protection of the environment, Trump has willingly pushed aside diplomacy for the sake of reviving dying industries.

On the other hand, leaders in Europe continue to focus on uniting the nations around the climate change cause.

  • France: Unlike the nationalistic Trump, President Macron believes in maintaining a symbiotic relationship with surrounding nations. He has invested in research on eco-friendly infrastructure and public transportation vehicles, and he has promised to close degrading coal and oil plants to make space for renewable energy plants.
  • Germany: Chancellor Angela Merkel abides by the quote, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together,” and advocates for international partnership. Chancellor Merkel has promised to shut down all nuclear plants by 2022 and will push towards sustainable energy sources, for example by requiring all public buildings to have 15% of its energy supplied by either solar or wind power.
  • Italy: President Sergio Mattarella’s platform advocates for teenage employment and the protection of the environment. He believes that economic revival can occur concurrently with environmental revival – the opposite approach of Trump’s.

III. History of Environmental Policy in Korea

South Korea has also debated about whether the country should pursue policies that protect the environment or pursue policies that promote economic growth. Different administrations have taken different stances on this matter.

President Lee Myung-bak’s macroeconomic policy sought to redevelop and reshape the environment as a means to revitalize Korea’s economy via its four main industries.

  • Economic policy: Lee wanted to move to low-carbon growth. His government hoped to be a bridge between rich and poor countries in fighting global warming by setting itself goals for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions to be achieved by 2020. All the while, his administration would follow a pragmatic, market-friendly strategy.
  • Environmental policy: He renewed laws protecting clean water sources from construction activities and invested in building public parks and environmentally friendly spaces. [4]Full disclosure: Korea had to uphold only two requirements under international environmental protection agreements.
  • Impact on the federal government: Lee was not as active as he could have been in making Korea an active participant in slowing climate change. This has been the subject of international scrutiny.

On the other hand, current President Moon Jae-in believes that the environment is something to be protected, not manipulated. He, like Obama, is working on policies that will promote environmental protection and economic prosperity together.

  • Economic policy: President Moon has announced that his goal is to create more public sector jobs by raising taxes on the wealthy, offering more support for small to mid-size companies as well as individuals.
  • Environmental policy: He consolidated the Ministry of Environment, which oversees the country’s water quality, nature preservation, and the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport, which oversees the country’s urban planning. Rather than beautifying cities, which was Lee’s focus, Moon hopes to preserve Korea’s remaining natural scenery.
  • Impact on the federal government: He has canceled plans to build new coal power plants and ordered the closure of old coal plants in an effort to reduce Korea’s emission of greenhouse gases.

IV. Liberal vs. conservative views on environmental policy

The conservative parties in Korea and the US view the natural world as something to be used or developed for the sake of economic growth.

  • In recent decades, the political right has advocated for economic stimulation, often at a cost to the environment. Backed financially by oil and gas executives, right-wing politicians have approved of power plants and energy plans that would worsen air pollution.
  • Because of their tepid responses to climate issues, conservatives have been the subject of much criticism from environmentally-conscious organizations and citizens.

On the other hand, the liberal parties in Korea and the US view the natural world as something to be protected. They pursue policies that can grow the economy without degrading the environment.

  • The political left has pushed through policies that strengthen environmentally-protective policies. By partnering with NGOs and community groups, the left makes sure to keep the environment an important part of their platform.
  • Liberal politicians have enthusiastically participated in international movements to slow global warming and climate change.

From the information you have been given, what do you think is the right direction for politicians to take with respect to environmental policies? Will the Paris Climate Accord face the same fate as the Kyoto Protocol? Or can we expect a different outcome?

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