Trump and the Paris climate deal

06 June 2017

“Last week’s decision by Donald Trump to pull the United States out of the UN Paris climate deal has caused consternation around the world.

In Brussels I was asked if I would like to make a short video of my reaction.  I agreed - I’m a politician after all - but soon found myself struggling to find the words.  With the camera ready to roll and words failing me I opted for the silent movie option and was recorded simply banging my head on my desk.  This response proved rather popular on Facebook, particularly amongst my son’s school friends, although as political analysis I accept it falls somewhat short.

So what are we to make of this widely condemned decision to withdraw?  I used to work for Christian Aid and back in 2005 we were the first of the UK’s development agencies to point out the devastating impact climate change was set to have on the world’s poor.  Our staff, based across many of the world’s poorest countries, were pointing out the links between changing weather patterns and increased poverty.  For instance, drought every tenth year in the Sahel region of Africa was becoming a third or fourth year event, undermining established farming practices and pushing those who live on the edge of poverty into actual poverty. 

In response we set out on a campaign to educate the churches and their congregations that the decades of successful development by both charities and governments was likely to be reversed by climate change.  Our printed materials used a quote from Nazmul Chowdhury, a Christian Aid partner in Bangladesh: “Forget about making poverty history.  Climate change will make poverty permanent”.

Eight years later and now an MEP I was a member of the EU Parliament delegation at the UN Paris Climate Change talks.  The Obama Whitehouse were actively engaged and played a key role in helping steer the talks to a successful conclusion with former presidential candidate Al Gore playing a central negotiating role. 

Less than two years later and the nation that did so much to broker an agreed route map for saving the planet has spawned a president with views diametrically opposed to the scientific evidence.  Clearly this decision by the world’s second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases is bad news but it’s maybe not quite as terrible as I believed it to be as I banged my head on that desk.  There remains a chance that the US will not, in the end, withdraw because the agreement’s built-in time delay means it cannot happen until the next presidential year, 2020 by which time Trump may well have been impeached or forced out of office by an appalled Republican Party.  Across the US state after state has told Trump he’s wrong and that they will stick with the agreement delivering year on year emissions reductions irrespective of his boneheaded pronouncement.  Business too has turned its back on the Neanderthal in the White House, all too aware of the risks associated with returning to fossil fuels.  It was pleasing to see Michael Bloomberg say he would personally compensate the UN for the $15million it will lose.        

With the US vacating its global leadership role the rest of us will have to do more and this presents the European Union with an opportunity to once again lead the world on climate change.  Germany, France and Italy didn’t hang around with their condemnation of Trump and this bodes well.

The UK’s absence from the global chorus of very public criticism is as embarrassing as it is to be expected. On leaving the EU we will be clamouring for friends and new trade deals.  This puts us in such a weak negotiating position that David Davis and Boris Johnson will have us agreeing to deals with any tin pot dictator or kleptocracy.  Given our desperation for a trade deal with the USA post-EU membership, Trump could probably get away with annexing Canada and we’d still be happy to sign on the dotted line!

Yet, when it comes to climate change history will record that Donald Trump was the President who didn’t represent America’s interests.  The question now is, will Theresa May be remembered as the Prime Minister who didn’t represent Britain’s?”

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