Any rational, responsible business leader, faced with an existential threat to his enterprise, would take steps to manage the risk. With his decision to leave the Paris climate accord, President Donald Trump is putting the lie to one of his central claims: that he would run the country like a business. The Earth is threatened with rising seas, violent weather and punishingly high temperatures. Rather than remain part of the world’s cooperative plan to address this danger, Trump is working to undermine it. The 2015 Paris agreement established a global target for lowering greenhouse-gas emissions — aimed at keeping the atmosphere from warming by 2 degrees Celsius.
Nearly all the world’s countries agreed to create a system to measure their progress, and to continually strengthen their efforts. By backing out, the U.S. not only diminishes its own influence in these vital diplomatic negotiations, but worse, grants other countries license to neglect their responsibility. In explaining his decision to leave the Paris accord, Trump said it would cost the U.S. millions of jobs and trillions of dollars in lost GDP over the next decade. In truth, America’s burgeoning solar and wind power industries are creating jobs.
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The solar industry, in particular added workers almost 17 times as fast as the overall economy last year. Leaving the climate deal, in any event, does nothing to advance jobs in fossil fuels or any other industry. Under Trump, the U.S. has already become an irresponsible role model. The administration is working to dismantle former President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which is meant to regulate electricity plants and help the U.S. meet its promise to cut emissions by more than a quarter from 2005 levels. That is more than one-fifth of the total emissions reductions promised in the entire Paris agreement.
Thankfully, as cities, states and businesses take action — and as coal is increasingly priced out of the energy market — emissions in the U.S. are falling steadily (though not as much as they would with the Clean Power Plan). And India and China are likely to reduce global carbon emissions by 2 to 3 billion tons more than they’d anticipated just last year. So all is not lost, at least when it comes to taking action to address climate change. When it comes to leadership on climate change, however, Trump has abdicated Washington’s role.
Now more than ever, cities, states and private companies will need to redouble their own efforts, to demonstrate to the world that Trump’s action does not reflect the views of most Americans and to ensure that the U.S. is ready to rejoin the global effort to prevent climate change at the first opportunity.