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Countries and companies worldwide put on a brave face in the wake of President Donald Trump’s June 1 announcement that the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change, vowing to carry on without the world’s second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases.
As word spread in recent days that a U.S. withdrawal from the Paris deal was likely, leaders in the European Union—and from China, Japan, India and other countries—reiterated their plans to stick with their commitments from the 2015 pact, regardless of what the U.S. decided. Private sector groups echoed those views in the wake of Trump’s announcement.
Enel Green Power, one of Europe’s largest renewable power utilities with operations in nearly 20 countries, told Bloomberg BNA its plans “would not change by one centimeter” as a result of the U.S. action.
Confindustria, the Italian industrial association, told Bloomberg BNA its members “remained committed” to the Paris deal.
And the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the U.N.’s main climate change body, said it “stands ready to engage in dialogue with the United States.”
“Countries have made it clear that they will stay on track,” David Waskow, director of the International Climate Initiative for the World Resources Institute, told Bloomberg BNA. “Dozens of Fortune 500 companies lobbied President Trump to remain in the Paris deal. The world will still move in the direction of developing a green economy even without the U.S., although it might be a slower transformation.”
But a U.S. withdrawal will have consequences.
“We haven’t seen any indications that any other country will want to follow Trump out the door,” Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists, said in an interview. “But that’s not the big worry. It’s very possible that the steps countries should take before 2020”—when most provisions of the Paris Agreement are scheduled to kick in—“will be thrown off by the U.S. withdrawal.”
Niklas Hohne from NewClimate Institute, a group specializing in scientific analysis of climate data, allowed that Trump’s announcement could have a negative ripple effect. “It could easily be used as an excuse by some not to do much when it comes to climate,” Hohne told Bloomberg BNA. “But I fully believe those companies will be in a minority.”
One negative consequence, according to Hohne and others, is the uncertainty caused by the change in policy from Washington.
“What companies want most is to have a predictable set of rules they must play by,” Hohne said. “This could create a disruptive level of uncertainty that will cause problems for far-sighted companies, those making the transition to the green economy.”
Because withdrawal from the Paris Agreement is a long process—signees cannot legally indicate their intention to pull out of the agreement until it is three years old, a milestone that will be reached in November 2019, with the withdrawal effective a year later—the U.S. will still have a seat at the negotiating table up until the 2020 U.S. presidential election.
Some key observers said they worried the U.S. would use that seat at the table to play a disruptive role in the process.
“The U.S. will have access to undermine and dismantle climate action at the UN regardless and will bring nothing, neither finance nor climate action, to the table,” Kelle Louaillier, president of Corporate Accountability International, said in an interview.
But Meyer cautioned that things could change drastically by the time the announced withdrawal actually takes place.
“By the time the U.S. officially and formally pulls out, the U.S. could have a new president-elect,” Meyer said. “That president could reverse course, although by then, the chances the U.S. could reach its target [of reducing emissions by 26 to 28 percent of 2005 levels in 2025] will be gone and the process will have already been weakened.”
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