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Trump and U.S. Must Honor Paris Climate Agreement


Ved Nanda is Evans University Professor and director of the Ved Nanda Center for International and Comparative Law. He has taught at the University of Denver's Sturm College of Law since 1965. Nanda is past president of the World Jurist Association, former honorary vice president of the American Society of International Law and a member of the advisory council of the United States Institute of Human Rights.

During the recently concluded United Nations climate meeting, the question most hotly debated was whether President-elect Donald Trump would follow through on his threat to withdraw from the Paris climate accord.

High government officials from almost 200 countries met for two weeks earlier this month in Marrakesh, Morocco, to implement the accord. While there was no clear answer, the consensus was that with or without the U.S., the agreement has to be implemented.

Trump has said he would renegotiate or even cancel the accord. But French President Francois Hollande said, “This Paris agreement is irreversible. No one can get out of it.” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also said that the agreement “has now become unstoppable.” After speaking with the president-elect, the secretary-general said he is confident that Trump could be convinced to change his mind.

The Chinese Vice Foreign Minister said at the summit that climate change is not a hoax and that U.S. Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush had supported the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which initiated global warming talks and brought the topic to international attention in the first place.

Those who think that Trump will not change his mind offer three reasons: One is his election pledge. He can reject the accord because President Obama used his executive authority to approve it on his own by an executive agreement and Trump similarly has the power to reject it. Second, the Republican Party fully shares Trump’s stand against Obama’s green policies. Finally, the U.S. Senate, led by Republicans, has warned that the Senate majority rejects the Paris deal. When Obama signed the deal, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said it was subject to being shredded right after the election.

There was talk of the reaction to the U.S. if it pulled out of the accord. Mexico, Canada and France, among several other countries, said that the nations should impose a carbon pollution tax on the import of American-made goods. This would not run afoul of the World Trade Organization rules because it could be justified on the ground that U.S. industries would otherwise be taking an unfair trade advantage by avoiding any cost for their pollution.

The Paris climate accord entered into force on Nov. 4 after more than 55 countries, representing 55 percent of global emissions, ratified it. The first legally binding deal sets out an action plan to limit global warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Nations have already submitted national plans to do so.

The collective goal for developed countries is to mobilize $100 billion per year by 2020 to assist developing countries in meeting their goals. The Obama administration had pledged to reduce carbon dioxide emissions 26 percent to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, while the European Union’s target is to reduce emissions 30 percent by 2030. It is remarkable that in the U.S., carbon emissions have already been dropping since 2000 and it can meet its set target for 2020.

That the Earth is warming is undeniable. According to experts, climate change has caused the planet to be at its hottest in 115,000 years; and 2014, 2015 and 2016 have been three record years in a row. Sixteen of the 17 warmest years ever tracked have occurred since 2000. It is also a well-established scientific finding that humans are affecting the Earth’s climate.

Asked in his New York Times interview last Tuesday whether he thought that human activity was linked to climate change, Trump seemed to have softened his opposition to the Paris agreement and pledged to keep an open mind on climate change. He said, “I think there is some connectivity. It depends on … how much.” This indeed is a promising sign. Given the current scenario, we have no choice. The U.S. must not withdraw from the Paris climate accord.