Prior to his election, Donald Trump was consistently clear about his views on climate change and his opposition to the Paris Agreement.
He previously called climate change a hoax, ‘created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive’, and has said that he would ‘cancel’ the Paris climate deal, but has since wavered on this position.
Rex Tillerson, president-elect Trump’s nominee for secretary of state and former CEO of Exxon Mobil, suggested that the United States would continue to participate in the United Nations climate change treaty.
Contradictory and confused messaging on the environment from the Trump administration is alarming. The president-elect has surrounded himself with climate science deniers and fossil fuel interests. Yet there is no mistaking the risk that the next four years pose to the global climate deal.
However, global climate action is unstoppable, and will continue with or without the leadership of the US. The Trump administration must decide whether the US will cede its moral leadership on the most crucial challenge of our time.
The Paris Agreement is an international treaty and now that it has entered into force, it cannot simply be ‘cancelled’ by the United States. One nation cannot single-handedly destroy the deal.
ClientEarth lawyers have found that, while President Trump can legally pull the US out of the Paris climate deal, he can’t do so before 2019 without breaking international law. A likelier option is that President Trump will simply fail to comply with the Agreement.
Trump could simply disregard the US’s commitments under the Agreement, and in doing so, breach international law. He could also challenge Obama’s legal authority to agree to the deal, by way of executive order.
This could be done explicitly, through declaring non-compliance, or implicitly by abandoning the policies and programmes introduced by the Obama administration.
Many of the programmes that seek to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the US aren’t enshrined in law. The Clean Power Plan, for example, which is currently tied up in litigation, could easily be done away with by Trump by way of executive order.
The withdrawal of the US would not affect the continued operation of the Paris Agreement, which would still apply to other states.
This shows that global climate action is unstoppable, and will continue with or without the leadership of the US.
The international and business community must condemn any violation of international law by Trump. This includes the decision to step away from a hard-won international consensus on the greatest environmental threat facing us.
The commitment of China, India, the UK and other nations to the Paris Agreement will ensure we keep global temperatures down below 2ºC. Other countries must exert diplomatic pressure on the Trump administration to combat the challenges we face from climate change.
The US will be held to account by the international community for its response to the most crucial challenge of our time.
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