US Withdrawal from Paris Accord: A Silver Lining?

There may be a silver lining in the cloud in Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Accord.  This is aside from the facts that the accord was not legally binding in the first place; and the US can give notice of withdrawal only three years after signing the accord, with a one-year period for withdrawal to take place after such notice is given, so actual withdrawal will take effect only after the end of Trump’s current term as President.

First is the break from a unipolar world.  After the end of the cold war, the US has been the sole and dominant superpower, and it has held on to this role through a claim of occupying moral high ground in defending freedom democracy and other high ideals.  Many have criticised this as a pretence, but whether real or not the foundation is the assertion that the US stands for principles that the world should aspire toward.  Now this pretence has been dropped, there is no claim toward global principles, and through this inward selfish turn the country is being internationally perceived as a spoilt child who says he will not play the game if the game is not played to the rules he wants.  Given the rest of the world is committed to fighting climate change (Syria and Nicaragua are the only other two countries who are not a part of the Paris Accord), the US has vacated its seat at the global leadership table.  The vacuum represents an opportunity for other countries to step in, and once place at the table is lost it will be difficult for America to reclaim a seat at the same level of authority.  This may be the tipping point that moves the world toward a more democratic structure in the community of nations.

Second, this could be a tangible handle that will be grabbed by internal resistance and resentment toward the Trump presidency.  Already 180 cities have announced that they will not abide by Trump’s declaration, and will continue to fight climate change and seek a clean energy future.  It is likely that many states and private companies will also follow suit, for they realise that isolation on this front will mean a loss for opportunities in the business of clean energy being ceded to other countries.  The broad-based disappointment in a significant percentage of the population over Trump winning the election will now acquire a strong focus and lever for mobilisation.

It looks like the immediate future will adhere to the Dickensian characterisation of it being the best of times and the worst of times.


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