By Andrew Freedman
The Paris Climate Agreement was enacted Friday, and in doing so, became the fastest global U.N. agreement to go from negotiation to international law in modern history.
In an ironic twist, that quick turn of events owes a great deal to someone who actually wants to dismantle the treaty: Donald Trump.
The threat of a Trump presidency helped move world leaders to fast-track the Paris agreement, bringing it into force early enough to give the planet a better chance of staving off the worst consequences of global warming.
Most accords like this take years, sometimes decades, before they become international law—if they’re even approved to begin with. So why’d this one move so quickly?
One of the most significant reasons was a substantial fear that a Trump presidency would unravel global climate action like the Paris Agreement, particularly if it was still in the fragile phase of gathering more signatories.
Sure, there were other motivations for nations such as the U.S., China, Brazil and India to ratify the agreement, which seeks to hold human-caused global warming to under 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, through the end of the century.
But when it comes to climate change, the Republican presidential candidate seems to have motivated world leaders to come together in order to hedge their bets against a common enemy.
With Paris enacted, it would be far more difficult—though not impossible—for a Trump administration to undermine the agreement by pulling the U.S. out of the U.N. talks, for example.
Now that the agreement has been entered into force, it’d take four years for the U.S. to withdraw from it, keeping it in place through the first term of the next president. However, nothing in the agreement would stop the U.S. from shirking its commitments under it, since there’s no enforcement mechanism.
Trump eyes oil, gas and coal resurgence
Trump has run on the most anti-climate action platform of any candidate in more than three decades. That this is happening in what’s likely to be the world’s hottest year on record is striking, especially since studies have shown a rapidly closing window within which the actions of countries around the world can bend the global emissions curve downward, and get on a path toward a zero-carbon future.
During an energy speech in North Dakota in May, Trump revealed his intentions regarding the Paris Agreement in stark language:
“We’re going to cancel the Paris Climate Agreement and stop all payment of U.S. tax dollars to U.N. global warming programs,” Trump said.
Nevermind that he can’t actually “cancel” the treaty, Trump still instilled fear in global capitals where leaders are now fully on board with the need to address global warming. Just this week, for example, China’s top climate negotiator scolded Trump for his proposal to torpedo the Paris treaty.
Trump’s said that climate change is a hoax. He’s packed his campaign advisors with climate deniers like North Dakota Rep. Kevin Cramer and energy executives like Harold Hamm. Both Cramer and Hamm favor more oil and gas development over a push toward renewable energy.
Trump’s promises to revive the ailing coal industry is largely seen as an appeal to working class white voters in West Virginia and Ohio. His speeches have been peppered with distortions on wind and solar energy, which are the two fastest-growing energy sources in the U.S., saying wind turbines kill “all your birds,” including eagles—a symbol of freedom—by the thousands.
Fear plus Obama, Ban Ki-moon
The fear of Trump, coupled with the passionate advocacy of two outgoing leaders—Barack Obama and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon—helped propel Paris to the finish line three years before it was expected to go into force.
President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden raised the agreement in nearly every meeting they had with international leaders this past year, as did Ban. The U.S. struck bilateral agreements with the leaders of China and India to coax them into ratifying it this year. China is the largest carbon emitter in the world, with the U.S. as the second-largest.
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