Under the climate leadership of President Obama there was a (misguided) feeling that with America in the driving seat we could probably all take it a bit easy. Now the world has woken up from that dangerous fantasy and people are realising that everyone needs to pull their finger out.
Already we’ve seen a thundering response from China and the EU – both reinforcing their commitment to the Paris Agreement and accelerating their coordination to take on the leadership role that America has vacated. That is a powerful duo, and has been followed by other leaders around the world rallying to the cause. We can expect more of this when the G20 meet at the end of the month.
By pulling out of the Paris Agreement, Trump has initiated a four-year process which will culminate right around the next US Presidential election. Not only does this open the way for a swifter return to the fold for America under a new President, it also will likely make climate change one of the key issues of the next election campaign. That is a huge platform to educate and inform the American public about, not only the reality of climate change but also the benefits of international cooperation, the value of ever cheaper, clean, renewable energy and the skilled jobs that it brings.
Trump spoke fondly of the US coal miners in his White House speech last Thursday but if he really wanted to act in the long-term interests of American coal miners he would invest in retraining so these communities can benefit from the jobs of the present and future, rather than watch those of the past dwindle away. Already there are more jobs in US renewables than in extracting coal, oil and gas combined. Coal is dying, market forces have seen to that. If Trump doesn’t think turning US coal miners into wind farm technicians is feasible then he should take a look in Carbon County, Wyoming, where the Chinese are planning to do exactly that.
Often a politician’s ignorance and hubris on climate change is likened to the story of King Canute demonstrating his inability to command the incoming tide. However the tide Trump cannot avoid is the decarbonisation of the global economy. Technological advancement, increased public awareness, international determination and market forces are arrayed against him. The 20th century was a century powered by fossil fuels and America dominated it. The 21st century will be powered by clean energy and in this self-defeating act Trump has rung last orders on American supremacy. The low-carbon industrial revolution is up for grabs.
Trump’s actions have also proved just what a robust and cleverly designed instrument the Paris Agreement is. In the past had America pulled out like this the likes of India and China would have probably followed suit within hours. But by being built from the bottom up, with each country pledging to do it own’s bit and promising to increase this over time, instead of doing a runner, other nations are holding the line and condemning the US as a pariah state. India and China have not only announced their recommitment to the pact, they are also on track to overshoot their own predicted commitments.
Not only has Trump created a shockwave through the international community he has also stirred up a reaction within the US as well. City mayors, Governors, business leaders, campaigners and civil society groups have reacted with outrage and fury at his attempted environmental sabotage. It even got the CEO of Goldman Sachs, Lloyd Blankfein, to tweet for the first time ever.
Already efforts are under way to meet the US pledges of the Paris Agreement through non-federal means and people are being motivated and mobilised across the country and the world. As the writer Malcolm Gladwell has noted, often the reaction to a social or political event is much more significant than the action. Had Trump remained technically inside the Paris Agreement, deceived the world with mixed messages and idle promises and slowly undermined its potency, then we would have really been in trouble. But by nailing his colours to the mast as an enemy of the planet we know what the stakes are and what we’re up against.
Christiana Figueres, the former General Secretary of the UNFCCC who oversaw the signing of the Paris Agreement tweeted: “Thank you Trump. You have provoked an unparalleled wave of support for Paris and determined resolve on climate action. Deeply grateful.”
As Winston Churchill is reported to have said: “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” Trump has created the crisis, we now need to make the most of it.
Joe Ware is a journalist and writer at Christian Aid and a New Voices contributor to the Ecologist, where this column originally appeared. Follow him on twitter @wareisjoe.
To find out about Christian Aid’s Big Shift campaign to get our banks to shift their investments from fossil fuels to renewables visit www.christian-aid.org.uk/bigshift