In abandoning the Paris Agreement on climate change , U.S. President Donald Trump has chosen to adopt a backward-looking course on one of the most important issues facing humanity. Ignoring scientific evidence on carbon emissions, Mr. Trump has carried his contempt for environmental regulations to an extreme with the decision to pull out of a hard-won compact that seeks to make the world safer for future generations. His move is incongruent with economic reality, because the most valuable American companies in manufacturing, computing, banking services and retailing, ranging from General Electric to Apple and Tesla, all see a future for growth and employment in green innovation, and not in fossil fuels. Some of them have begun reaping the benefits. For poorer residents of various countries, though, weakening of the climate agreement and failure to progressively reduce carbon emissions by 2020 and beyond threaten to impose misery and deepen poverty. Every successive year is becoming hotter than the previous one, and the ice sheets in West Antarctica and Greenland, which hold the key to sea levels, have recorded a steady loss in mass. As a major legacy polluter, the U.S. has a responsibility to mitigate the damage. This is something that Barack Obama recognised, but Mr. Trump has abdicated.
It is heartening, however, that there is strong support for the Paris Agreement among many individual States and cities in the U.S., while the European Union and China, which together represent about 39% of man-made emissions, now effectively lead the effort to cut greenhouse gases. Energy efficiency is having an impact, and has levelled off coal use in America; it has in fact fallen over the past four years, including in 2016, in spite of an overall rise in energy consumption. Mr. Trump’s assertion that he represents Pittsburgh, not Paris, is clearly misplaced. India, which he has unfairly blamed for seeking climate funds and building coal plants, should strengthen its pledge to cut the emissions intensity of GDP by 35% by 2030, based on 2005 levels, and expand its ambitious renewable energy programme. The wider challenge now is to maintain the momentum on climate finance for mitigation and adaptation, since the U.S. pledge of $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund made earlier is unlikely to be fulfilled. Funding is crucial for poorer countries in order to cope with extreme weather events and sharp variations in food production caused by climate change. The U.S. exit should not affect the overall goal, which is to keep the increase in global average temperature over pre-industrial levels to less than 2°C. Equally, the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities that underpins the UN climate framework, and casts a duty on industrial powers responsible for the world’s accumulated carbon emissions, needs to be strengthened.