President Trump has pulled the US out of the Paris climate agreement. It was a stupid, petty move designed to curry favor from the Right and certain sections of the business class, in other words, classic Trump.
But it really doesn’t mean very much.
The Paris Climate deal was always more symbolic than practical and Trump’s pulling out of it can be described the same way.
As most people know, the Paris deal was non-binding — meaning that while it declared that the UN would really prefer, if it’s not too much trouble, that its member states reduce emissions, it had no way of making sure they actually did or sanctioning them if they chose not to. So whatever dirty, emissions-spewing, coal-industry-fellating, civilization-ending plan Trump and the Republicans have cooked up could (and probably would) have been pursued even without pulling out of the Paris agreement.
Trump making a big show of announcing that he’s pulling out is just a wink to whatever followers he has left and, likely, a middle finger to those leaders in Europe who embarrassed him so much by acting like normal politicians when NATO met in Brussels the other week. There’s nothing about the deal that prevents Trump from pursuing whatever energy policy he wants, pulling out of it changes nothing.
What’s more, if last years UN Emissions Gap report is to be believed, even if every single country (including the US) achieved 100% of their stated climate goals, from the Paris deal as well as previous agreements (and they won’t), the world would still warm by as much as 3.4 degrees Celsius. This is well above the limit of 2 degrees Celsius generally agreed upon as the point at which things get really bad (of course, the paper that first proposed the 2 degree limit was sure to point out that any warming above stable Holocene levels was dangerous). What’s more, on the current trajectory, we’re set to exceed the obvious pipe-dream that was the 1.5 degree limit, proposed in Paris, by 2021, a mere four years from now.
There were people making this point, that the Paris agreement wasn’t enough, as soon as it was announced. The typical counterpoint was that it was so amazing, so historical, to get so many countries to agree to something, anything, that we should be happy with what we got. This, obviously, makes no sense. The climate sure doesn’t care how many countries signed a piece of paper, if we don’t reduce CO2 emissions enough, the climate will keep warming and once we cross the threshold and trigger a feedback loop, it won’t stop. That’s all there is to it, physics doesn’t care about history.
The Paris deal was never going to save us from the climate crisis. If anything, Trump pulling out gives the remaining member countries an opportunity to make it stronger than it was before, maybe making it a binding agreement since it was largely US interference that prevented it becoming so before. Trump’s eagerness to distance himself from traditional US allies may even give them the courage to impose sanctions on the US until we get our emissions under control.
The Paris agreement was just the sort of milquetoast reform, obscured by a patina of revolution, that the neoliberal status quo has been giving us domestically and internationally for decades, to make us feel like big changes are happening while they nibble around the edges of the problem. It’s an attempt to force global industrial capitalism into a “green” box that it’s too big for — even if they get the lid closed it’ll just burst out the sides. Trump’s reneging on it has about as much direct affect on his actual climate policy as his Saudi Arabia trip will have on his policy toward Muslims.
The Left should be keeping their eyes peeled for actual policies that will accelerate the climate crisis, like his cuts for renewable energy research or his attack on public lands, and not spend time mourning this toothless agreement.