One year ago, President Trump announced that he planned to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement. The decision derived from Trump’s insistence that climate change is a “hoax” and his determination to overturn as much of his predecessor’s legacy as possible. It also matches with Trump’s insistence that the U.S. doesn’t need the rest of the world. In a material sense, that’s a bad bet: Whether or not the U.S. participates in climate pacts like Paris, the climate is going to change, and no wall can keep rising temperatures, and their effects, out.
But the U.S.-global relationship flows the other way, too: There are times when the world needs the U.S., and the effort to slow climate change is shaping up as one of those. Even discounting the effect of U.S. emissions on the goal of limiting change to 2 degrees Celsius, it’s simply very hard for international agreements to function without the U.S. behaving as the enforcer. That makes Paris an interesting test case for whether global agreements can work with America withdrawing from the stage, and if so, whether anyone else can step up.
“The absence of the U.S. at a political level is visible. I was at the Conference of Parties in Bonn in November and the absence of the U.S. is absolutely felt,” Todd Stern, the Obama administration’s lead negotiator on Paris, said Sunday at the Aspen Ideas Festival, hosted by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic. “There’s a lot of countries trying to pull back and backslide and it wouldn’t be happening the same way if the U.S. was there.”