Yesterday President Trump isolated his Government from the rest of the world on climate change. Donald Trump’s reasoning for his action on Paris is clear; he does not believe that the agreement is good for American business. In terms of near-term profitability he may be right, although there are economic opportunities offered by the development of green technologies that will be necessary to help our transition to sustainable living. Essentially, Trump’s decision is based on a coherent and rational calculation that places narrow US interest and greed above the responsibility to protect our planet and the livelihoods of present and future generations.
We might take heart that several business leaders in the US have opposed the President’s decision. Some US states have reaffirmed their commitment to their Paris-related climate targets. But the commitment of the US federal government to the Paris treaty matters a great deal for at least two reasons.
Firstly, US climate targets pledged under the Paris treaty would be difficult to achieve even if the US remained within the treaty. Without commitment to the treaty, the US will miss those targets by a mile. Yet the average US citizen has carbon emissions that are twice as high as that of someone living in the UK. In terms of per capita carbon emissions the US ranks 12th highest in the world and among high emitters the US has by far the largest population.
Secondly, US commitment matters because without it other countries are likely to row back on their commitments. Governments around the world are putting a brave face on President Trump’s announcement and are reasserting their support for the Paris agreement. President Putin reaffirmed Russia’s commitment to the Paris treaty (although Russia does not expect to ratify the treaty until 2018). But powerful leaders of Russian steel and energy conglomerates were already placing pressure on Vladimir Putin to somehow fudge the Russian targets so that their businesses will not be so heavily impacted. President Trump’s robust defence for the US coal industry will add strength to lobbying by financial and reactionary interests in various parts of the globe.
To sustain really meaningful action on energy and carbon emissions we will need to work across sectors with our citizens lobbying governments; consumers taking action through their purchases; local authorities building resilience into local resourcing and planning; investors raising concerns with the boards of corporate companies; national churches taking a lead in the investor community and with governments.
We should acknowledge that the Paris climate treaty came about as a result of the action of citizens and governments across globe. In December 2015, the UN Climate Chief, Christiana Figueres, was moved to tears when taking delivery of a faith-based petition; a collection of almost 1.8 million signatures from people of all faiths across the world. The Paris agreement represents an expression of the demands of people from across the world to protect our precious global commons from unbridled capitalism. From the perspective of our churches, our care for God’s creation and for future generations yet born, is part and parcel of discipleship. We seek justice on the basis of equal rights and act in sympathy with millions who have already found their lives and food security blighted by the storms and droughts. Fortunately this cause is also passionately supported by many US citizens, faith groups and others in the US. We must hope that they bring their nation back to a place of leadership at some point in the future.
ACTION – Defend the Paris Deal