Sources told Axios Trump has told several people he will withdraw from the Paris agreement, which if true, has sparked concern the move will damage America’s standing with the rest of the world.
Former Obama administration climate diplomats have been the most vocal against withdrawing from Paris. Todd Stern, former climate envoy for President Barack Obama said withdrawal would be “an act of diplomatic malpractice.”
“They would see withdrawal as a slap in the face, disrespecting their fundamental interests and, in turn, eroding the United States’ diplomatic capital,” Stern wrote in The Washington Post earlier in May of other countries’ reactions to a U.S. withdrawal from Paris.
Stern helped negotiate the Paris agreement and has an interest in seeing their legacy stand. So, what do other experts think a Paris withdrawal would mean for U.S. diplomatic standing?
“It seems doubtful that a trade minister or arms control negotiator would really drive a harder bargain or walk away from a deal because of such considerations,” Philip Wallach, a senior fellow Brookings Institution, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
“I think the bigger risk is that the U.S. comes to be regarded as an uncooperative international actor more generally, such that our soft power is diminished,” Wallach said. “Remember, climate change is viewed in far less political terms in most places around the world.”
Sarah Ladislaw, who heads the energy and national program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said any diplomatic blowback to the U.S. for withdrawing from Paris wouldn’t manifest itself in a “one-for-one trade off.”
“It’s not a red line issue for most countries so they calibrate their response — but that’s true of most issues in international affairs save for a few,” Ladislaw said.
“For example, I’d be really surprised if the UK decided not to do [a free trade agreement] with the U.S. over the issue of climate or if [NATO’s] Article 5 was called into question over climate, but I do think that countries will start to organize groups the circumvent the US or the administration on the issue of climate,” she said.
There will definitely be some blowback, especially from countries that saw the Paris agreement as advantageous to them or necessary for the planet. Nearly 200 countries agreed to the Paris accord in 2015, and it went into effect in 2016.
Wallach said pulling out of Paris would have an impact on our “sensitive relationship with China.”
China has publicly been a major proponent of sticking with the Paris agreement, which requires countries to make voluntary commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
China signed on to the Paris agreement with a promise to peak emissions by 2030, a trend they were likely on course to meet before joining the accord. Critics say Paris gives China a competitive edge over the U.S. for at least the next 13 years. Obama pledged to cut U.S. emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.
“On the bigger question, of whether other countries are really likely to punish the U.S. in any concrete ways because of our withdrawing from Paris, I think it’s pretty uncertain,” Wallach said.
European leaders also put the pressure on the Trump administration to stick with the Paris agreement. Trump’s been heavily pressured by European allies, his own administration, corporate America and environmentalists.
“It will be a very central rallying cry for those in the climate world, which is quite a big crowd at this point!,” Wallach said. “It is just hard to know how much they will be able to pass their anger along to trade ministers and the like.”
While it’s hard to see any overarching consequences to a Paris withdrawal, the Trump administration shouldn’t expect the global warming issue to go away. Withdrawing from Paris could take years if Trump doesn’t send it to the Senate to be voted down like a treaty.
Europeans and environmentalists may continue to pressure the administration to sign on to some other global warming deal, and activists will almost certainly continue to stop Trump’s rolling back of Obama-era climate policies.
“The most overt fight I can imagine starting over this issue is the imposition of border tariff adjustments against the US if it does not start to take action on climate and leaves Paris – and even that would be pretty bold,” Ladislaw said.
So while there will probably be some diplomatic blowback, it may not manifest itself in areas of major policy cooperation. At the end of the day, Trump will have to weigh the potential diplomatic blowback against the cost to his domestic agenda of staying in the Paris agreement.
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