On June 1, 2017, President Trump addressed the nation about the Paris climate accord (COP21) and its future ties to the United States. The COP21, more formally known as the 21st Conference of Parties, is an annual meeting of U.N. representatives to reduce carbon emissions and the impacts of climate change.
The COP was created by the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, synonymous with COP21, was finalized in December 2015 and was signed by then-president Barack Obama. At the time, there was a great deal of optimism that this deal was a turning point for reducing climate change. Almost 197 countries signed onto this agreement, creating a feeling of unprecedented global cooperation on the issue of climate change.
That day, Trump announced the U.S. would leave the international agreement of almost 200 countries, which would make the U.S. the first country to do so. It would also label the U.S. as the only industrialized country to not participate, joining two other countries which never joined: Costa Rica, whose representatives didn’t believe the climate agreement went far enough to combat climate change; and Syria, which has been grappling with a civil war since 2011.
A particular sticking point of the Paris climate accord with the Trump administration is the Green Climate Fund (GCF), to which 43 supporting countries pledged a total of $10.13 billion. Under President Obama, the U.S. pledged $3 billion total and had contributed a third of that commitment when President Trump assumed office. The goal of the GCF is to implement environmentally sound infrastructure in developing countries. These countries are most likely to use fossil fuels such as coal, due to their relative abundance, cheap prices and low technological barriers to use. President Trump called the GCF “yet another scheme to redistribute wealth out of the United States.”
President Trump has expressed sympathies for the environment, but his main concern is American workers and putting American needs first which is his reason behind the U.S. exit.
“As someone who cares deeply about the environment, which I do, I cannot in good conscience support a deal that punished the United States – which is what it does,” said Trump. He expounded upon this further by claiming that “China will be allowed to build hundreds of additional coal plants. So, we can’t build the plants, but they can, according to this agreement. India will be allowed to double its coal production by 2020.” This statement has been rated false by the Washington Post, but it still gives insight as to how President Trump views things through the lens of “America First.”
It is possible that the president’s sentiment of caring “deeply about the environment” has overruled his June announcement. Several months later, the U.S. is still a signatory of the Paris climate accord and many observers are wondering if President Trump has changed his mind. They hope that his concerns for the environment are sincere and that the U.S. will remain a contributing member of the climate change discussion, considering it is one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases.
Gary Cohn, the president’s top economic adviser, may have dispelled hopes this week, when he stated, “Consistent with the President’s announcement in June, we are withdrawing from the Paris Agreement unless we can re-engage on terms more favorable to the United States.” This statement is in-line with Trumpian expectations of putting American needs first and suggests a U.S. exit is possible, if not imminent. What “terms” the U.S. will seek to renegotiate is unclear at this point.
With negotiation in mind, the delayed exit itself may be a negotiating tactic. As a backdrop, President Trump addressed the UN General Assembly for the first time in his presidency on Sept. 19. He discussed a wide range of topics, such as seeking global cooperation on terrorism and the “rogue regimes” of North Korea and Iran, warning that “if the righteous many do not confront the wicked few, then evil will triumph.” He also spoke of reforms to the U.N. itself to make the institution more efficient, as well as suggesting potential budget cuts.
“The United States bears an unfair cost burden, but, to be fair, if it could actually accomplish all of its stated goals, especially the goal of peace, this investment would easily be well worth it,” said Trump.
This kind of backhanded compliment is emblematic of President Trump’s approach to leadership: seeking global cooperation, while also criticizing the existing order of international diplomacy.
As we have come to expect with President Trump, the end goal of his negotiations is only clear to himself, but even that may not be the case. The president seeks international engagement when his policies are at stake, such as combatting terrorism and denuclearization of North Korea, but simultaneously shirks U.S. responsibilities in the broader global agenda, such as reducing the impacts of climate change and investing in sustainable, non-carbon-based energy infrastructure.
The future of the Paris climate accord is unclear at this point, as well as how it ties into the Trump administration’s goals. It is quite clear that President Trump has an agenda that requires the aid of organizations such as NATO and the U.N., but it is also clear that the international community has conditions for its support and one of those is U.S. in fighting climate change. President Trump is trying to balance his “America First” ideals with international diplomacy while simultaneously learning how to play the two off of each other. For the moment, the U.S. will remain in the Paris climate accords, while leaving open the option of the Trump Card: the president’s obfuscatory negotiating techniques.