Donald Trump announced on Thursday that the USA will pull out of the Paris Agreement.
His speech was notable for avoiding terms such as “global warming” or “climate change” almost entirely. Instead, he roundly attacked the agreement as a purely economic instrument that purportedly imposed only costs and provided no benefits. The great fallacy of this rhetoric and this approach is that it pretends that climate change isn’t happening or perhaps that it will somehow have no consequences.
This is dangerous nonsense.
Global warming is well established as a scientific and human reality. As conditions worsen, the United States and the rest of the world will face increasingly dire environmental and economic impacts. In Canada, the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy argues that the impacts of climate change will impose economic losses that are huge in comparison to the costs of mitigation and adaptation. On a worldwide scale, the Stern Review concludes that “the benefits of strong and early action far outweigh the economic costs of not acting,” and estimates that the impacts of climate change will cost at least 5 per cent of global GDP every year, “now and forever,” whereas the costs of adaptation and mitigation will be on the order of 1 per cent of GDP.
Refusing to take action on climate change because climate action has costs is a basic failure of simple business and economic logic. As Simon Jenkins observes, Trump in effect says that “The US shouldn’t have to pay billions for a climate change deal when it can pay trillions in sea defenses for no climate change deal.” Refusing to deal with global warming is not to be somehow magically free of its consequences. It is, rather, a headlong charge into vastly higher risks that will have increasingly disastrous economic costs.
In his response to Trump’s announcement, Barack Obama notes that investing in a low-carbon energy economy has successfully encouraged growth and innovation: “growing industries like wind and solar […] created some of the fastest new streams of good-paying jobs in recent years, and contributed to the longest streak of job creation in our history”. Rejecting the growing worldwide transition away from high-carbon sources of energy is economic and technical regression dressed up in an ill-fitting costume of heroic nationalism. Trump is turning his back on some of the most innovative and productive economic and technical achievements of modern times, and instead recommitting to century-old technology and ideas that will leave the USA disadvantaged and left behind as the rest of the world moves forward without them.
Trump’s rejection of the Paris agreement is not only a short-sighted move for the planet, it’s a backward step for the prospects of the United States, a self-inflicted ideological wound that will cost America its place in the low-carbon economy of the future.
Steve McCullough, PhD
Research Associate, Prairie Climate Centre