President Donald Trump’s announcement Monday that his administration had begun the formal process of removing the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accord, a global agreement to tackle climate change, was not a surprise. He announced in May 2017 that he was going to take this ill-advised step.
Monday was the first day that countries could announce their intention to leave the global agreement. The withdrawal process takes a year. If Trump is not re-elected next year and a new president decides to resume American membership in the climate pact, reversing Trump’s move would be simple and quick.
But that is a big if, and either way, it is still disheartening to see the U.S., which had long been a leader on numerous international problems, walk away from a commitment to lower greenhouse gas emissions. With new reports, including ones from agencies within the Trump administration, showing that climate change — and its consequences — are worse than previously predicted, this is not a time for backsliding on needed policies and changes to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, which trap warm air around the Earth, leading to higher average global temperatures, more intense storms, increasing numbers of wildfires, and other deadly consequences.
In announcing that the U.S. had sent official paperwork to the United Nations to begin the withdrawal process, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo repeated the administration’s reliance on “innovation and open markets” rather than a global agreement to reduce emissions and provide secure energy supplies.
America, of course, could — and should — do both. The U.S. should be a productive participant in international debate about solutions to one of the most pressing issues currently facing the world, one that will result in mass migrations due to drought and hunger that will worsen global conflicts, as the Pentagon has repeatedly warned.
Innovation is also part of the solution. Already, there are far more Americans employed by the clean energy industry than by the fossil fuel industry. Still, the Trump administration has or is in the process of rolling back more than 85 U.S. environmental regulations. Many of them involve easing or eliminating air and water pollution restrictions, often in the name of boosting fossil fuel production in the U.S., which is itself problematic because burning fossil fuels like oil and coal is a major contributor to climate change. So, it is no surprise that carbon emissions are rising under the Trump administration.
Given this abdication from the White House, it is up to states and communities, as well as businesses, to take the lead on actions to address climate change.
“Maine will not follow the lead of the federal government. Instead, Maine will work with states across the country through the bipartisan U.S. Climate Alliance to stem the tide on climate change,” Gov. Janet Mills said in a press release Monday. “We may be small, but we are a mighty force — and we will not shirk our responsibility to protect our natural resources and defend the survival of future generations, nor will we forsake the opportunity to create clean energy jobs and expand our economy by embracing the green technology of the future.”
Shortly after Mills’ inauguration, Maine joined the U.S. Climate Alliance, a group of 23 states and Puerto Rico that have committed to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions and to creating policies to develop cleaner energy.
More substantially, Mills and lawmakers formed a state-level climate council to develop a plan for Maine to meet carbon reduction goals, which the governor pegged at achieving 80 percent renewable energy in the electricity industry by 2030 and 100 percent by 2050.
The climate council, which includes representatives of state government, businesses, Maine tribes, environmental groups, lobstermen and others, is tasked with identifying strategies to increase renewable energy generation and reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. The group will also look for ways to prepare Maine for changes that will continue to come from a changing climate, including warmer and higher oceans, new diseases and changed growing seasons for crops and forests.
These commitments and actions are important. But they are no substitute for coordinated national and international leadership to address climate change. By taking steps to formally withdraw the United States from the landmark climate agreement, the Trump administration has made the U.S. less safe and less influential. That is a harmful and unnecessary step backward.