WASHINGTON ― If the environmental implications of the United States pulling out of the Paris climate agreement weren’t stark enough, just as consequential is the impact it will have on the ability to work with allies around the world.
The agreement to reduce planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions brought together more than 190 nations. In refusing to take part, the United States joins just two others ― Nicaragua and Syria (the former because its leaders didn’t think the agreement was strong enough; the latter because it’s in the middle of a brutal civil war).
Trump said Thursday he would exit the accord ― which he insists “punishes the United States” ― but left open the idea the U.S. could “negotiate our way back in to Paris” or potentially work to reach some other deal entirely.
“We will all sit down and we’ll get back into the deal and we’ll make it good,” said Trump.
World leaders, who have been negotiating a global agreement for 25 years, of course may differ on that point.
The Paris announcement doesn’t come at a great time for the Trump administration, diplomatically speaking. European leaders’ reception of Trump last week was chilly, making it clear they aren’t very enthusiastic about working with the U.S. This was emphasized even further in the readout from the G-7 summit, wherein the six other nations explicitly distanced themselves from Trump on climate.
“The real problem today and the real sadness is the death blow to the international credibility of U.S. leadership,” said Christina Figueres, the former executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. “The blow to the international credibility of the United States cannot be underestimated.”
Figueres said Thursday’s announcement shows both that the Trump administration has no understanding of how international treaties work from a legal perspective, and that the U.S. loses significant trust among the international community in stepping away.
“I think it will be yet one more confirmation for the Europeans that this guy is unreliable,” said Federiga Bindi, a former adviser to the Italian government and a senior fellow at Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Transatlantic Relations. “The only solution they have is getting stronger among each other.”
World leaders and politicians were quick to condemn Trump’s decision, with many issuing statements on Twitter lamenting the move as a dark day for the planet. France, Germany and Italy came out with a joint statement saying that the Paris Agreement could not be renegotiated.
“The U.S. decision to leave the #ParisAgreement is a decision to leave humanity’s last chance of securing our childrens future on this planet,” Sweden’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Margot Wallstrom tweeted.
“The science on climate change is perfectly clear: we need more action, not less,” the United Nations Environment Program said in a statement. “This a global challenge. Every nation has a responsibility to act and to act now.”
Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo announced that in a sign of its commitment to the agreement, the French capital’s city hall building would be turned green. London Mayor Sadiq Khan also issued a statement reaffirming the city’s commitment to the agreement and saying he will work with other major metropolises to maintain it.
The global outrage over Trump’s decision to exit the deal highlights the potential for diplomatic backlash, as analysts say countries will have reason to doubt the United States’ ability to honor international agreements.
“President Trump has turned his back on the world on an issue they care deeply about,” said Andrew Light, a senior fellow at the World Resources Institute and former high-ranking State Department official on climate change under President Barack Obama. “This will have repercussions for how other countries respond to the U.S., not just on the climate playing field, but well beyond.”
The Paris decision will likely make it harder for Trump to get buy-in from world leaders on the issues he wants to prioritize.
“Countries are not going to trust Trump,” said Paul Bledsoe, a top climate official in the Clinton White House and lecturer at the American University Center for Environmental Policy. “This is another validation of the suspicion that Trump is not just unpredictable but untrustworthy. So why should they negotiate trade agreements with him? How can they trust him on security agreements?”
“I really don’t believe that foreign leaders believe that Trump is trustworthy. It’s another indication the U.S. cannot be a trusted partner,” he continued.
“Trump will find himself isolated more and more,” said Bindi. “I don’t think Americans put things really in perspective. They tend to think history is 10 years ago, and tend to think America’s leading role in the world is given and it’s going to be there for the rest of time and this is not going to happen.”
This move from Trump also gives China the chance to “to cast themselves as the new champions of globalization,” says Andrew Small, a China expert at the German Marshall Fund think tank.
“Politically, Beijing sees this as a gift-wrapped opportunity to position itself as a responsible global leader at the expense of the United States,” Small said. “For countries that see climate change as an existential issue ― not least the European leaders who are meeting the Chinese PM for their summit this week ― closer cooperation with China now becomes a necessity.”
“I think the Chinese are frankly amazed that the Trump administration keeps handing them these openings,” Small added.
There’s also the perception of the U.S. once again walking back from a climate commitment, after famously pulling out of the Kyoto Protocol in 2001. The administration of former President George W. Bush said that move was because Kyoto didn’t include major developing nations like India and China. It took another 14 years to get an agreement that included those nations, only for the U.S. to shirk participating in it.
A future U.S. president, of course, could rejoin a climate agreement ― but would have to work very hard to convince international partners the U.S. is serious this time.
“The country hurt the most with respect to this decision is the United States,” said Light.