Trump and Paris: What Impact on Climate?

President Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement triggered a strong response from the international community, and many foreign leaders quickly denounced the decision and vowed to maintain or increase their nations’ efforts. China and the European Union have announced a new alliance to lead on climate issues. In addition, U.S. states are forming alliances with other nations, with California Governor Jerry Brown traveling to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping and sign climate partnerships with local Chinese leaders. Governor Brown also participated in an event for the Under 2 Coalition, a group of subnational actors in 33 countries committed to reducing carbon emissions, which he led California to establish in 2015. Yet the loss of U.S. federal leadership is still daunting. Other world players are looking to fill this leadership gap, including new French President Emmanuel Macron who has invited American climate scientists to continue their work in France.

Impacts on U.S. Emissions

U.S. leaders in the private sector and in state and local government are pressing forward. As David Victor notes for the Brookings Institution, the loss of U.S. federal leadership makes the path to achieving the Paris Agreement’s goals harder to achieve, but not impossible. Rhodium Group’s modeling showing the annual emissions projections,  shows that the systematic dismantlement of climate policy by the Trump Administration makes it impossible for the US to attain its 26-28% emissions reduction target. However, uncertainty from a range of other factors, including energy markets dynamics (oil and gas prices in particular) and the health of the economy could drive large variations in emission trajectory, compounding the policy uncertainty around the fate of climate policy and programs targeted by Republicans.

Rhodium Group projections of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions

Even before the Paris Agreement announcement, the administration had worked to impede the nation’s effectiveness on climate issues. Among many other programs in the line of fire, the ability to monitor carbon emissions, with budget cuts proposed to severely limit the Environmental Protection Agency’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory, and eliminate the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)’s Global Carbon Monitoring program. The loss of these tools would critically undermine the U.S.’ ability to implement and enforce emissions regulations.

Impacts on Adaptation and Resilience Funding, Domestically and Internationally

As part of the withdrawal, Trump announced that the U.S. would end its payments to the Green Climate Fund, falsely claiming that “nobody even knows” where the funding for developing nations is ending up. Yet the fund, which aims to support equally climate mitigation and adaptation projects, fully details 43 projects currently funded from the $10+ billion pledged. By ending its payments, the U.S. cuts $2 billion in expected funding, a serious blow to the fund. It is yet to be seen if other nations will increase their pledges to fill this gap. Trump’s proposed budget will cut grants and funds for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and close to 50% of the EPA’s scientific research programs budget. The proposal belies previous administration claims that their EPA plans would return environmental responsibilities to states, as the budget reduces “state grants for air and water programs by 30 percent.” Other budget cuts may target innovation and fundamental research with cuts for ARPA-E and the Department of Energy.

New U.S. Coalitions Form to Support Paris Agreement 

Though funding to climate programs are at risk, leaders of U.S. cities and states are forming alliances to voice their commitment to achieving the nations’ contributions even without federal government support. The U.S. Climate Alliance, which was formed by the state governors of Washington, New York, and California, is comprised of 13 states and territories make up the alliance representing 35.9% of the country’s population.

The We Are Still In movement, which is led by Michael Bloomberg, seeks to allow subnational entities formally to submit reports on progress to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, raising questions of whether and how the Framework should allow subnational actors to participate. More than 1200 mayors, governors, college and university leaders, businesses, and investors have pledged to continue to support climate action to meet the Paris Agreement through the We Are Still In; Four Twenty Seven is proud to join these efforts as a signatory.

The effect of these new coalitions is yet to be seen, but the signal they send to other nations and advocates around the world is critical to cushion the blow from the withdrawal of the world’s second largest emitter from the Paris Agreement. The rest of the world has sent a clear signal that they remained committed to fighting climate change, with European leaders, Indian Prime Minister Modi, and Chinese Premier Xi in particular reiterating their commitment in the days that followed the announcement by Donald Trump.

What Now?

The Trump administration has brought new levels of uncertainty to climate policy in the U.S., but efforts to tear down regulatory programs are more likely to create continued confusion and delays than to deal a final blow to efforts to reduce emissions. The greatest uncertainty, however, comes from the broader policy and political context, the ability of the administration to carry out its agenda, and the impact of its proposed policy on the economy.

Meanwhile, many cities and corporations are galvanized. Their efforts to compensate the policy shifts at the federal level will not be enough to make up for the lost budget and policy ambition, but it will ensure the U.S. does not trail too far off its international commitment and keeps an informal but critical presence on the global stage.