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Friday, June 2, 2017

Kevin Trenberth: Why Trump’s decision to leave Paris accord hurts the US and the world

by Kevin Trenberth, The Conversation, June 1, 2017

[Editor’s note: President Donald Trump stunned the world on June 1 by announcing his intention to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accord, a landmark global agreement to lower greenhouse gas emissions and minimize the harm from climate change. We’ve assembled a panel of academics and scientists to analyze what this dramatic move means for the planet, U.S. businesses and the world’s poor.]

A race to the bottom to destroy the planet

Kevin Trenberth, Distinguished Senior Scientist, National Center for Atmospheric Research
The whole of the Paris Agreement is based upon goodwill: There are no punitive actions or means to enforce the agreement. The goodwill also includes the Green Climate Fund for transferring money from rich countries to developing countries for building resilience, mitigating and adapting to the effects of climate change. The U.S. has pledged US$3 billion and has delivered $1 billion but seems unlikely to add to that. That alone undermines a lot of the good will. And it will be a major sore point in all small island-states and developing countries, who have not caused the problem of global warming.
The U.S. leadership was essential in Paris. If the U.S. does not lead by example – and we have a moral and ethical responsibility to do so as the country that has contributed more than any other to accumulated greenhouse gas emissions so far – then why should anyone else go along? Unless there is a universal carbon tax, fossil fuels appear to be the cheapest form of energy. That’s not true, of course, because of all the downstream effects on air quality and climate change.
So now what we are likely to face is either some form of trade wars in which heavy tariffs are used against the U.S. and other renegades, or the whole thing collapses and we all spiral into a race to the bottom, to see who can exploit and thus destroy the planet first.
Yes, other things are moving in positive directions, such as more use of renewable energy, but not yet fast enough: Ask India what it will do if it does not get technology transfer and help.
The U.S. cannot opt out without major other consequences, including those to the planet. Without the U.S. and Paris, we crash through the critical 2 degrees Celsius threshold before 2060 – the point at which climate scientists like me consider the most dangerous effects from climate change will become strongly evident – perhaps a decade earlier owing to U.S. pullout. And this means increasing trouble with ecosystems being out of whack with the climate, trouble farming current crops, and increasing shortages of food and water.
But if Paris is fully implemented and feeds back on itself to a new energy economy, we can delay 2 degrees C by 40 years, maybe. I believe that we will go through 2 degrees C by 2100 regardless. But with more time, we can adapt so much better. It will be bad enough under the best scenarios, but this could be bringing doomsday forward by 50 years (or more).

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