Alarm and defiance: World reacts to Trump’s Paris withdrawal

Everyone from global leaders to activists has criticised the US President’s decision to withdraw the country from the Paris Agreement, undoing years of global climate negotiations and putting the planet’s future at risk.

In a move that drew near-unanimous criticism from global leaders, businesses, and the public, American President Donald Trump announced on Thursday that the United States will exit the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

In an address made in the White House’s Rose Garden, Trump said that he was withdrawing from the world’s first ever universal deal to address climate change “in order to fulfil my solemn duty to protect America and its citizens”.  

He went on to say that the US is open to re-negotiating terms for the US’s participation in the Paris Agreement—or an entirely new transaction— that are fair to businesses, workers and tax-payers. 

Trump has long claimed that the Paris Agreement, which aims to cap a global temperature rise at 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, is a “bad deal” for the US because it undermines US competitiveness and manufacturing jobs, imposes “unrealistic” emissions reduction targets on the US, and commits the country to contributing US$3 billion to help poorer nations cope with climate change via the Green Climate Fund. 

Technically, the US cannot withdraw from the agreement until 2020, three years after came in to force, unless it leaves the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change altogether—dubbed by observers as the “nuclear option”.  

However, this did not stop Trump from declaring that the US would immediately cease implementing any Paris-related commitments including its contributions to the Green Climate Fund and working to achieve its emissions reduction pledge, known in United Nations jargon as the Intended Nationally Determined Contribution.  

The US had committed to reducing its emissions by between 26 and 28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2025.  The country is the world’s second largest carbon emitter after China, contributing to about 14.4 per cent of emissions in 2013.

As Republican policymakers applauded in the background, Trump noted that he was opening to negotiating what he deemed to be a fairer deal, but was nonchalant about it, saying: “If we can, that’s great. And if we can’t, that’s fine.” 

The rest of America and world, however, took a less sanguine view. Here’s how they reacted: 

American policymakers 

In a statement released while Trump was still giving his address at the White House, former US President Barack Obama noted the move reflected “the absence of American leadership” in achieving a low-carbon future.

“This Administration joins a small handful of nations that reject the future,” he added. Syria and Nicaragua are the only two other nations to have not signed up to the Paris deal. 

Obama went on to express confidence that states, cities, and businesses would “step up and do even more to lead the way, and help protect for future generations the one planet we’ve got”. 

The city of Pittsburgh, for example, hit back swiftly at Trump’s claim that his decision reflected his duty to “the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris”. The city’s mayor Bill Peduto was quick to tweet that Pittsburgh would continue to follow the guidelines of the Paris Agreement. 

Almost 70 mayors around the US also echoed this defiant view, issuing a joint statement pledging to “adopt, honour, and uphold the commitments to the goals enshrined in the Paris Agreement”.

The Mayors added: “We will continue to lead. We are increasing investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency. We will buy and create more demand for electric cars and trucks. We will increase our efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions, create a clean energy economy, and stand for environmental justice. And if the President wants to break the promises made to our allies enshrined in the historic Paris Agreement, we’ll build and strengthen relationships around the world to protect the planet from devastating climate risks.” 

International leaders: 

French president Emmanuel Macron, in a video statement, said that while he respected Trump’s decision, it was a “mistake, both for the US and our planet”. 

Urging scientists, entrepreneurs and citizens disappointed by the decisions to come to France and work on climate solutions, Macron added: “We all share the same responsibility; make the planet great again”. 

Macron’s compatriot Anne Hidalgo, mayor of Paris and chair of the C40 group of cities, added that Trump’s decision was a “dramatic mistake”. But regardless of the decision, “the great cities of the world…remain resolutely committed to doing what needs to be done to implement the Paris Agreement,” she added. 

Meanwhile in Australia, Energy and Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg underscored the country’s commitment to the Paris Accord, calling Australia’s target of reducing emissions by between 26 and 28 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030 “reasonable” and “achievable”. 

Criticisms of the move continue to come in from across the world. Canada’s Justin Trudeau, British Prime Minister Theresa May, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Japan’s foreign ministry have all come forward to express disappointment and alarm at Trump’s move.

Climate change is real. Leaving Paris is not good for America or the world.

Elon Musk, chief executive officer, Tesla

Private sector

For Tesla chief executive Elon Musk, who in recent months had drawn heavy flak for his role on Trump’s council of business advisors despite the latter’s harsh policies such as a ban on immigrants from some Muslim nations, the decision was the final straw.

 An hour after Trump’s announcement, Musk tweeted that he was departing the President’s council. “Climate change is real. Leaving Paris is not good for America or the world,” added Musk.

Leaders of various American companies ranging from Apple to Microsoft to General Electric, Google, and even Shell also expressed disappointment at Trump’s move. One exception was Rob Murray, chief executive of America’s largest coal mining firm, Murray Energy, who applauded the decision as “an integral part of President Trump’s energy agenda”. 

In Australia, investors also panned Trump’s decision. Emma Herd, chief executive of the Investor Group on Climate Change said in a statement that “without a clear, stable policy framework and shared goals to work towards, responding to climate change will be harder and more expensive for all countries”. 

Civil society 

Environmental activists and advocates from around the world also slammed Trump’s decision to pull the US out of the Paris Agreement. 

Anti-fossil fuel campaigning group 350.org founder Bill McKibben, for instance, called the withdrawal a “stupid and reckless decision”, and a “a bid to undercut our best hope for a workable future in a bizarre attempt to restore the past”.

“We will resist,” continued McKibben in an opinion piece in the New York TImes. “As the federal government reneges on its commitments, the rest of us will double down on ours.”

Winnie Byanyima, executive director of anti-poverty charity Oxfam International, said that “the world’s biggest historic emitter walking away from its climate change commitments is gravely unjust, but we must respond by redoubling our efforts”.

However, Christiana Figueres, the former UNFCCC executive secretary who presided over efforts to lock in the Paris Agreement in 2015, had perhaps the most optimistic take on it as she tweeted: “Do we dare start to thank Mr Trump for the deepening commitment of climate action on the part of all others?”

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