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The art of fulfilling hollow goals

So it came to pass as rumour had it. On June 1 US President Trump announced that the United States is to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. And whilst he may tick another election promise box, the practical implications would seem to render the entire exercise as rather futile exposing a lack of understanding of the deal. Quite irrespective of what views the said President may think or tweet about the climate change issue, a term notably absent from his announcement.

There is a silver lining under the cloud of US President Trump's announcement to withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement. According to IRENA renewables, such as biomass, employed around 777 000 people in the US 2016.

There is a silver lining under the cloud of US President Trump’s announcement to withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement. According to IRENA, renewables such as biomass employed around 777 000 people in the US during 2016.

According to a variety of reputable “fake news” outlets, countries cannot back down until three years after the agreement was ratified in addition to a 12-month notice period. So that brings it right into the next US Presidential election time. The fast-track alternative would be to withdraw the US from the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) itself, which could take as little time as one year. However, this option seems highly unlikely, as it would take far more than a stroke of the Presidential pen. And for someone who has declared an ambition to run two-terms in office, it would seem very high stakes gamble indeed.

And whilst President Trump says he aims to “renegotiate” the deal, it would appear that he has missed a fundamental construction of the Agreement – the Agreement is non-binding and each Party sets its own commitments and targets. Under the terms of the Agreement, a Party is allowed to make changes in their undertakings. So withdrawing from the Agreement to renegotiate any onerous non-binding commitments put forth by the former Administration seems a miscalculation.

If the intention is to renegotiate the entire Paris Agreement then President Trump had better start cutting deals and rallying support amongst any other nation that wishes to renegotiate. In a statement, the UNFCCC said it “regrets” the announcement while it also “notes the announced intention to renegotiate the modalities for the US participation in the Agreement. In this regard, it stands ready to engage in dialogue with the United States government regarding the implications of this announcement. The Paris Agreement remains a historic treaty signed by 195 Parties and ratified by 146 countries plus the European Union. Therefore it cannot be renegotiated based on the request of a single Party.”

The reactions from both within the US and from other countries have been almost immediate as the announcement was made. Words used vary from a mild “disappointment” to the much stronger “betrayal” though none seem surprised. Undoubtedly it is a blow to the Agreement; the US is the world’s 2nd largest carbon emitter but ultimately it is a larger blow to the credibility of the US as a country that honours its international deals and commitments. It is not far-fetched to suggest that for the Trump Administration, negotiating American interests in other international deals going ahead may have just got that bit harder.

The consequences and implications remain to be seen and will be the subject of much discussion amongst nations, regions, cities and businesses in the weeks and months ahead but one thing is clear; the Paris Agreement lives on with or without the US as a country on board with others such as the EU, China and India jockeying to take on the now vacant leadership role. It was never about pitting the people of Pittsburgh against the people of Paris, it is about showing leadership and taking responsibility for all the Pittsburgh’s and Paris’s of the world wherever they may be.

It is a double irony for the great negotiator businessman President given that the US played such a central part in the formation of the Agreement in the first place. So its terms and conditions ought to have been well balanced with American interests and non-binding commitment capabilities in mind. Yet this is in itself where perhaps the real reason lies and why the current White House Administration has gone to such extraordinary and seemingly bizarre lengths on this issue. Could it be as simple and as petty as being obsessive in removing or undoing any and every legacy of the former Administration?

Be all that as it may it is heartening to know that the US is far more than the reality TV drama style goings on in Washington D.C. As World Resources Institute (WRI) points out if the states in the US that support the Paris Agreement were a country, they would be the 5th largest economy, 6th largest emitter and 12th most populous country. In its “Renewable Energy and Jobs – Annual Review 2017“, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) pegged 777 000 were employed in the US renewable energy sector 2016 of which the bioenergy was almost half at an estimated 370 600 jobs.

And as Joanne Ivancic, Executive Director Advanced Biofuels USA put it, “The world’s efforts to make this a better world obviously do not depend on US government policy. Lack of leadership in this area from the US government does not mean lack of leadership from the American people, organizations or companies”. That is something to keep in mind and work with going ahead.

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