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Lead author reacts to US Paris Agreement withdrawal

IPCC Special Report lead author reacts to US Paris Agreement withdrawal

University of Canterbury political scientist Associate Professor Bronwyn Hayward is a lead author on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report in the fight to limit the world's global warming increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Here, she gives her personal reaction to US President Donald Trump’s plans to withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement on climate change.

It feels surreal to be listening to Trump’s announcement as I am packing to leave for the author meeting on the Special Report for the IPCC about how to achieve the objectives agreed in Paris to limit global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.

I was simply shocked to hear Donald Trump describe a 2 degrees climate rise as a “tiny, tiny” amount – a global rise of 2 degrees translates to much higher local temperature changes, and change beyond 2 degrees risks dangerous climate events.

The announcement is no surprise – Trump signalled he intended to pull out of the agreement. What is a surprise is how long it took and that Trump has had to leave the door open for his re-entry into the Paris Agreement.

This decision has taken a very long time and is so equivocal because it is not one that is well supported even amongst his own core vote base. This is why Trump is working so hard to make climate change seem a “foreign” economic threat.

Despite the deeply partisan political divisions in the US, a detailed poll this month by Yale University of Americans’ attitudes to climate change revealed only 1 in 5 US voters now support withdrawing from the Paris Agreement and less than a third, just 28% of Trump’s own vote base, agrees America should leave the climate agreement.

US withdrawal also creates significant new problems for the President which is why he has keep the door open:

1) First are political challenges; the withdrawal of Trump will create a political vacuum which China and the EU are already stepping into as new global leaders in technology. There is also significant risk of political isolation of the US. For example ,US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit to Aotearoa New Zealand reminds us that the US needs its international allies. But putting “America First” also reminds domestic populations in the rest of the world that what is good for America is not necessarily good for other countries and this will make it harder for governments to forge alliances with an unpopular US administration.

2) Second, the President’s decision creates significant industry challenges. There is no evidence that there will be new jobs created by the old industries, while other significant business leaders of new industries, including Apple and Tesla, will be very frustrated at changes to US regulations for new investment in clean technology. We can also expect intense lobbying now from some sectors to destabilise the wider global climate agreement by arguing that without the US “what is the point?” However while the US makes up about 26% of total global emissions, what the rest of the world does will now matter very much. We can also expect to see intense lobbying from the geo-engineering sector to position experimental industries like large-scale carbon capture and storage.

3) Third, this creates significant leadership challenges for the US President as the leadership vacuum allows space for a new generation of younger world leaders and city and state governments to position themselves as offering new vision, and many, like the state of California, are already significant global leaders in addressing climate change.


ends

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