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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Climat. Les états-Unis, à contre-courant de l’histoire

by Marie-Noëlle Bertrand and Bruno Odent

Climate. The United States, Fighting against the Tide of History

Translated Tuesday 4 July 2017, by Tyler Gates

Trump continues to obstruct the fight against climate change. The backdrop against which the climate skeptic President has suspended his decision says a great deal about his national strategy.

A protester wearing a mask caricaturing Donald Trump at the People’s Climate March in front of the White House in Washington, April 29th. Photo : Nicolas kamm/AFP

The speech made Thursday night by Donald Trump brought to a close a skillfully orchestrated performance regarding his position on the agreements issued from the 2015 Paris Climate Conference. Wednesday, the President of the United States affirmed in a Tweet that he would reveal his decision concerning the position that the United States would take regarding the Paris accord on June 1st at the end of the evening, French time. The announcement puts an end to a carefully maintained suspense - as shown by the international uproar that the threat of a pull-out has created. The US petrol group Exxon Mobil is taking a keen interest. And yet, whatever will happen, it will not change the direction that US climate change policy has taken. Whether they are in or out of the Paris agreement, Trump and his beliefs have taken to sabotaging the fight against climate change. And removing all weapons from its arsenal.

"The Paris agreement, which commits the international community to a global warming limit of less than 2 °C, is not constraining to the point of forcing countries to do what they promised in terms of emissions reduction" recalls Michel Colombier, head of science at the Institute of Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI). "Built specifically not to push away those that the constraints might repel, it’s even what makes it unique. The US stayed on the sidelines of the Kyoto Protocol, the previous climate agreement adopted in 1997, and refused to ratify it" continues Michel Colombier. Constraining (at least on paper), this agreement imposed a 6% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions between 2008 and 2012. They would never bend to such regulation.

The 2025 objectives are not being upheld

Since then, the game has consisted of reducing constraints in the UN framework as much as possible to convince the foremost world economy to enter into the dance of emissions regulation. In real terms, the Paris Accord does not oblige countries to do anything more than present voluntary goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and to show transparency when it comes to the state of their progress. The extent of these goals is left to the discretion of each individual country. The US gave themselves until 2025 to reduce their emissions relative to 2005 by 28% at best.

"Considering their history, this commitment has no merit" continues Michel Colombier. But it marked a symbolic change in US policy. "What we hoped for was that this would lock in a dynamic that in 2020 produces new, more ambitious commitments. It was torn up, even before Trump had made his decision to pull out of the accord. Shortly after assuming his post, the President committed himself to show this by naming climate change sceptic Scott Pruitt director of the EPA, the federal environmental agency responsible for managing emissions regulation policies committed to by the Obama administration. These policies can be essentially thought of as a national plan - the Clean Power Plan - that aims to reduce coal produced greenhouse gas emissions by 32%. At the end of March, an order dismantling this plan and disputing the entire national policy on emissions reduction was signed.

With this order, promises made at Paris by the US, the second-largest CO2 emitter in the word, first if we compare its emission levels to number of inhabitants, seem to have been buried deep. Recommendations are still shared, but many believe that the objectives set for 2025 will not be met", estimates Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists. Even if 30 states such as California or Massachusetts claim that they will meet it, for and against Trump concerning energy transition policy, there are serious doubts about whether it is enough to fill the gap.

This political defection by the United States on their own territory also risks bringing with them in their wake several of the countries least agreeable to bolstering their efforts. The comment also applies to the medium-term process: low chance of success, due to the fact that the Trump administration is prioritizing US goals until 2020, as we have become convinced. If other big emitters of CO2 give way to this counter-dynamic, catastrophe is certain: unless limits are raised very little from now on, commitments made by the group of countries will not allow the promised 2 °C cap to be held.

The accord’s self-fulfilling prophecy was false

Is that to say that in the end, Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris agreement did not have any significance? It’s not that simple either. "The US is supposed to contribute to the financing of 100 billion dollars annually, promised by northern countries to those in the south to help them tackle climate change," recalls Srinvas Krishnaswamy, director of the Indian foundation Vasudha. Without them, the question is how to raise these funds."

Trump’s decision is even crucial, believes Maxime Combes, economist and member of Attack. "It sanctions the fact that the self-fulfilling prophecy of the Paris accord was false. Where the World Bank, the IMF and the WTO have constricting regulation and sanction mechanisms, this agreement had the intrinsic weakness of leaving the responsibility to act or not to multinationals [1] and to rogue states such as those that are part of the US."

Trump’s decision says a lot especially about his nationalist strategy. From his perspective, the country and its corporations are prevented from operating at their maximum potential. Responsible: multilateral agreements, based on international regulation adopted after the second world war. They are condemned as constraints "unfair" with respect to the influence of the US and its corporations. The new administration therefore does not want anything less than to impose a new world order. Thus their attack which, in addition to climate, affects all the "hot" questions in international relations. So economy or defence are at the centre of other wanted transformations. As we saw during the current White House occupant’s recent European tour.

Europe and Germany, in the national-liberal lion’s den

Donald Trump has declared himself NATO’s undisputed warlord. While promising a "historic" increase in the military budget of his own country, he let his partners know that they would not benefit from the American "umbrella" without "paying their fair share" to the organization. And to urge them to boost their military spending to 2% of GDP. On the economic front, he flew into one of his violent populist rants to which he is accustomed denouncing "bad Germans", guilty of record economic surpluses thanks to the United States. He has already countered with the appeal to tax dumping, and he promises retaliatory measures for protectionism. In Paris and Berlin, the Trump offensive was used to advantage to call for a closing of the European ranks. The challenge is real. Europe’s alternative responsibility is multiplied as a result of these attacks. Weary, however, were the responses thrown back by the "France-Germany couplie", as they come back to throw themselves into the National-Liberal wolf’s mouth.

Macron and Merkel want to put Defence Europe in place and to reinforce the Eurozone’s ordo-liberal framework , which begins with the immediate deregulation of the French labor market. That they would announce their reciprocal willingness to participate in the arms race by planning a mismanagement of spending in military equipment or they want to develop the antisocial logic of the present European project, principal breeding ground for the centrifugal forces that threaten to dismantle Europe, the President and Chancellor stride out, in both cases, in advance of the desires of White House strategists. Ideal for an autocratic President, who wants to recycle "old" international agreements into bilateral deals, and obviously much more advantageous to the superpower.

[1See adjacent article in l’Huma


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