We knew it was coming. Still it was a shock to many across the America and around the world.
How to recover from the U.S. withdrawal from the 2015 Paris Climate Accord endorsed by 195 countries and supported by more than 60% of Americans? Is this our League of Nations debacle revisited? (We know how that eventually turned out.) What happens now?
In a rare political assertion as a former president, Barack Obama provided the spark for a Resistance: “I’m confident that our states, cities and businesses will step up and do even more to lead the way, and help protect for future generations the one planet we’ve got.”
The Resistance formed quickly and grows hourly.
Many states and cities, anticipating the Trump withdrawal, have already set in motion strategies to offset its consequences. Governor Jerry Brown of California — a leading figure in this growing confrontation, largely via a trans-regional coalition, Under2o— is one:
Within hours of the Trump action, Governor Brown, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Washington State Governor Jay Inslee announced their formation of the United States Climate Alliance. Its mission: It “will convene U.S. states committed to upholding the Paris Climate Agreement and taking action on climate change.”
The Resistance ratched up rapidly: The New York Times promptly reported the formation of a national coalition to offset the Trump action: “Bucking Trump, Cities, States and Companies Commit to Paris Accord”. Summary: “The unnamed group — which so far includes 30 mayors, three governors [above], more than 80 university presidents and more than 100 businesses — is negotiating with the United Nations to have its submission [for greenhouse emission targets] accepted alongside contributions to the Paris climate deal by other nations.”
Initial business reaction to the withdrawal — individually and via corporate statements — is revealing:
Elon Musk, resigning from a presidential business advisory council: “POTUS withdrawal from Paris Accord will forever damage our planet and our standing in the world. There is no Plan B, Mr. President.”
GE CEO Jeff Immelt: “Disappointed with today’s decision on the Paris Agreement. Climate change is real. Industry must now lead and not depend on government.”
IBM, reaffirming its support for the Paris Accord and taking issue with Trump’s assertion that it is bad for American workers: “This agreement requires all participating countries to put forward their best efforts on climate change as determined by each country… IBM believes that it is easier to lead outcomes by being at the table as a participant in the agreement, rather than from outside it.”
Still, the many hundreds of U.S. business leaders who opposed the prospect of a withdrawal face what is arguably the gold-standard test of their commitments to corporate social responsibility and sustainable development. No doubt virtually all will follow up on their well established internal programs on environmental progress (after all, it’s good business, too). But how many will be visible advocates for broad societal coalitions supporting policies to parallel the Paris climate accord? How many will work for reversal of the Trump climate denial doctrine as U.S. policy?
And how will all this affect business leaders’ overall comfort with Trump based largely on his promises of lower taxes and discarding many government regulations?
Other influentials’ reactions on this existential issue were more predictable.
Among Republicans, Senate majority leader McConnell “applaud[ed] President Trump” but savvy Maine Senator Susan Collins tweeted, “Climate change requires a global approach. I’m disappointed in the President’s decision.” House Democrat Adam Schiff tweeted, “POTUS withdrawal from Paris Accord will forever damage our planet and our standing in the world.”
Trump’s action is generating a plethora of negative comments from a broad spectrum of public figures. Perhaps Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity encapsulated the central sentiments: “Trump just confirmed his total contempt for our planet’s future [with] this rejection of international climate cooperation, turning our country into a rouge nation.”
It will take some four years to complete the Trump climate accord withdrawal. (Typically, he embellished his withdrawal statement with his usual “dealer” bombast: “We will start to negotiate, and we will see if we can make a deal that’s fair”. Foreign leaders responded, No way, will they negotiate.)
Given that timeline, can an anti-withdrawal US national coalition cohere quickly enough? More importantly, can it stay vibrant enough for eighteen months when voters will have an opportunity to inflict buyers’ remorse on Trump’s climate deniers?
For the sake of America’s reputation — and for the good of the planet — we must hope so.