Blog Post

Adieu Paris: what’s next for climate policy if Trump ditches the Paris Agreement?

US President Trump has made it clear that he is not happy with the Paris Agreement. This week he will announce whether the US will withdraw from the Agreement altogether. What might that mean for the global fight against climate change? US decarbonisation is already well underway but the EU would need to step up and defend global climate governance.

By: , and Date: May 30, 2017 Topic: Green economy

Tweeting from Taormina after the G7 summit, President Trump announced his intention to make a final decision on the Paris Agreement this week. The fact that he did not join the other six leaders when they reaffirmed their commitment to the Paris Agreement might indicate a plan to pull the US out of the Agreement.

This decision would be a huge but expected U-turn in US climate policy, in line with Trump’s electoral campaign promises. Under President Obama, the US took on a leading role in the global fight against climate change. Indeed, the Paris Agreement would probably not have materialised without the action of the former President. He played a central role in committing the US to cut greenhouse gas emissions, and also in engaging emerging countries – and particularly China – in the process. The road to Paris started to look really possible only when, in November 2014, the US engaged in a landmark deal with China that put the world’s two largest greenhouse gas emitters in lockstep to cut emissions.

If President Trump’s does decide to withdraw, this choice would clearly be driven by domestic political reasons. It would completely dismiss three fundamental facts of the USA’s energy and climate reality:

  1. The US is already decarbonising, as a result of energy market trends rather than of climate policy. Due to sluggish economic growth, the switch from coal to natural gas that has followed to the ‘shale gas revolution’, and the emergence of more efficient technologies, the US has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by more than 10 percent between 2005 and 2015. Sticking to the Paris Agreement would, therefore, not have been too difficult for the US.
  2. Trump’s wished-for renaissance of coal is unlikely to materialise, either with or without strong climate policy. As most recently illustrated by a study from the Columbia University Center on Global Energy, the decline in domestic US coal has been predominantly due to increased competition from cheap natural gas rather than by environmental regulations or climate policy. Should natural gas prices remain at current levels, US coal demand will continue its decline, even without the Paris Agreement.
  3. As a result of technological advancements, renewable energies such as solar and wind will inexorably expand their role in the US energy system, regardless of climate policy. This is clearly illustrated by the fact that the average cost of wind energy has declined by 66% between 2009 and 2016, while the average cost of solar photovoltaic has fallen by 85%.

These facts are clear also to oil companies. It is not by coincidence that even the CEO of Exxon Mobil (the world’s largest listed oil company, and also the one considered by climate change activists as the most conservative), recently wrote a personal letter to President Trump, urging him to keep the US a party to the Paris Agreement.

On the basis of these three facts US decarbonisation is likely to continue, even if the Trump administration withdraws from the Paris Agreement. Therefore the most worrisome implication of Trump’s eventual decision would not concern the US contribution to global warming, but rather the solidity of the overall structure of the Paris Agreement.

The Agreement is fundamentally based on international cooperation and mutual trust. With the historically-largest greenhouse gas emitter pulling out of the Agreement, it would be difficult to convince other countries to stick to their commitments.

In particular, countries with carbon-based economies such as the Gulf countries, Russia or even Australia and South Africa might have primarily joined the Paris Agreement in order to avoid being side-lined in international policy debates. If the US is leaving, this argument is somewhat meaningless.

More worryingly, emerging countries whose emissions are likely to substantially increase, such as India, closely monitor US climate policies. Their governments, and those of all other parties, would most likely find it more difficult to persuade their domestic audiences of the need and feasibility of strong climate policies.

In this context, the roles of the second-largest historical emitter, the EU, and of the currently-largest emitter, China, will be key to ensure the stability of the Paris Agreement architecture in the event of a unilaterial US withdrawal.

If Trump pulls the US out of the Agreement, the EU and China should promptly react, by taking the lead in a new initiative to revive the ‘spirit of Paris’.

First of all, the two partners should immediately deliver a joint declaration aimed at reaffirming their commitments towards the Paris Agreement, and at inviting all other parties to do the same. The 19th EU-China Summit taking place in Brussels on 1-2 June might represent a timely occasion to do this.

Secondly, the two partners should propose to the German Presidency of the G20 to organise a special session (open to the G20 countries minus the US) devoted to the Paris Agreement at the forthcoming Hamburg summit of 7–8 July 2017. This session should aim to build up the political momentum for advancing the implementation of the Paris Agreement. In particular, it should encourage the advancement of ongoing discussions on issues such as monitoring regimes and climate finance. In particular, the clarity on the US stance should make it easier for the other countries to make progress on the complex negotiations about how to transpose the articles of the Paris Agreement into workable rules. This should make concrete steps forward possible in the forthcoming COP23 in Bonn (6 – 17 November 2017).

The EU should now swiftly understand its new global responsibility, and promptly strengthen its engagement with China and other countries to keep up momentum and decisively proceed along the road defined in Paris.


Republishing and referencing

Bruegel considers itself a public good and takes no institutional standpoint. Anyone is free to republish and/or quote this post without prior consent. Please provide a full reference, clearly stating Bruegel and the relevant author as the source, and include a prominent hyperlink to the original post.

Read about event
 

Past Event

Past Event

[Cancelled] Shifting taxes in order to achieve green goals

[This event is cancelled until further notice] How could shifting the tax burden from labour to pollution and resources help the EU reach its climate goals?

Speakers: Niclas Poitiers and Femke Groothuis Topic: Green economy, Macroeconomic policy Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels Date: May 12, 2022
Read article
 

External Publication

The Global Quest for Green Growth: An Economic Policy Perspective

A review on green growth and degrowth arguments.

By: Klaas Lenaerts, Simone Tagliapietra and Guntram B. Wolff Topic: Global economy and trade, Green economy Date: May 5, 2022
Read about event More on this topic
 

Past Event

Past Event

From viruses to wars: recent disruptions to global trade and value chains

How have events in recent years impacted global trade and value chains and how can we strengthen these against future disruptions?

Speakers: Dalia Marin, Adil Mohommad and André Sapir Topic: Global economy and trade Date: April 27, 2022
Read article More on this topic
 

Blog Post

Climate migration: what do we really know?

While uncertain, studies suggest that climate change will cause significant internal and international migration over the next century.

By: Klaas Lenaerts and Simone Tagliapietra Topic: Global economy and trade Date: April 25, 2022
Read article More on this topic More by this author
 

External Publication

Dans l’urgence climatique

Book published by Gallimard and overseen by Groupe d’études géopolitiques (GEG)

By: Simone Tagliapietra Topic: Green economy Date: March 22, 2022
Read about event More on this topic
 

Past Event

Past Event

Decarbonising Germany: conversation with Patrick Graichen

A special off-the-record conversation with Patrick Graichen.

Speakers: Patrick Graichen and Guntram B. Wolff Topic: Green economy Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels Date: March 10, 2022
Read about event More on this topic
 

Past Event

Past Event

Greening Europe’s post-Covid-19 recovery

At this event Bruegel launches a new Blueprint that collects voices of policymakers and academics on the crucial topic of how to make sure Europe will recover from the pandemic crisis while keeping their commitments to the Paris Agreement.

Speakers: Ian Parry, Simone Tagliapietra, Laurence Tubiana and Guntram B. Wolff Topic: Green economy Date: February 24, 2022
Read article Download PDF More on this topic
 

Blueprint

European governance

Greening Europe’s post-COVID-19 recovery

This Blueprint includes some of the Group’s most prominent voices on the different aspects of the multidimensional issue of green recovery.

By: Simone Tagliapietra, Guntram B. Wolff, Georg Zachmann, Laurence Tubiana, Laurence Boone, Antoine Dechezleprêtre, Jean Pisani-Ferry, Klaas Lenaerts, Thomas Wieser, Ottmar Edenhofer, Mirjam Kosch, Michael Pahle, Ian Parry, Robert N. Stavins, Sabine Mauderer and Tomasz Koźluk Topic: European governance Date: February 23, 2022
Read article More on this topic More by this author
 

Blog Post

Europe’s sustainable taxonomy is a sideshow

The EU taxonomy grossly simplifies a complex and dynamic world. It might help prevent green-washing but other tools are needed to guide green investment.

By: Georg Zachmann Topic: Green economy Date: February 22, 2022
Read article More on this topic More by this author
 

Podcast

Podcast

Europe’s energy crisis

Is Europe’s energy price surge here to stay?

By: The Sound of Economics Topic: Green economy Date: February 16, 2022
Read article More on this topic More by this author
 

Opinion

A new EU treaty to fight climate change

Thirty years after Maastricht, a new treaty is needed: one that will commit the EU to tackling its greatest challenge in the decades ahead, climate change.

By: Maria Demertzis Topic: Green economy Date: February 8, 2022
Read article More on this topic More by this author
 

Opinion

Letter: The EU’s green taxonomy is a missed opportunity

The taxonomy is unlikely to become the international “gold standard” in the field, which is a missed opportunity.

By: Simone Tagliapietra Topic: Green economy Date: February 7, 2022
Load more posts