EXPERT REACTION: Donald Trump pulls the US out of the Paris climate agreement

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President Donald Trump has announced that the US is withdrawing from the 2015 Paris climate agreement. Below, Australian experts comment. Feel free to use these quotes in your stories. Any further comments will be posted on Scimex. If you would like help contacting an expert, please don’t hesitate to contact us on (08) 7120 8666 or by email.

Organisation/s: Australian Science Media Centre

Expert Reaction

These comments have been collated by the Science Media Centre to provide a variety of expert perspectives on this issue. Feel free to use these quotes in your stories. Views expressed are the personal opinions of the experts named. They do not represent the views of the SMC or any other organisation unless specifically stated.

Professor Andrew Holmes is President of the Australian Academy of Science

The Paris Accord in 2015 was a landmark in global acceptance of the need to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

Signatories accepted that to limit global warming to 1.5-2.0-degrees above pre-industrial levels, we needed to reach net-zero carbon emissions by the second half of the century, and reduce atmospheric greenhouse gas levels thereafter.

The withdrawal of the world’s largest economy from the Accord will certainly have an impact on global climate change efforts. However it shouldn’t affect the resolve of the many countries already committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. We acknowledge the Australian government's resolve to maintain its own commitment.

Australia is one of the highest per-capita emitters in the world, and our dryland agriculture and coastal infrastructure are highly vulnerable to climate change.

By virtue of our position in the southern hemisphere, Australia also has primary stewardship for monitoring and understanding half of the world’s climate, so climate change must be central to public discussion and policy thinking.

The Australian Academy of Science has a number of publications that help people understand the science of climate change, both our best understanding of the current situation and what is uncertain. The challenge is monumental – even more so following this announcement – and will require the very best science from around the world to provide understanding, to adapt to the existing impact of climate change; to suggest solutions and to evaluate the success of efforts to combat this global challenge.

Last updated: 05 Jun 2017 2:41pm
Dr Luke Kemp is a researcher in international climate change negotiations and lecturer at ANU

Forget about the US, it’s time for a critical mass of climate action.

The world has spent the last two and a half decades looking for climate leadership. Every time it has backfired. Both the Kyoto Protocol and Paris Agreement were watered down for the US. This is now a chance to forget about the US and for a critical mass of leaders to move ahead without them.

The announcement today does not impact US emissions or climate financing. In practical terms, it simply means that the US doesn’t need to put forward a new pledge every five years. Trump’s decision to withdraw does not tangibly effect US emissions or action. It does signal that he wants the US to become a technological fossil.

The US will keep a voice and a veto in the climate negotiations until 2020 when legal withdrawal takes effect. However, other countries are far less likely to accede to the demands of a withdrawing climate pariah.

The world should now look for the response of the EU and China. The decision to withdraw could embolden China and the EU to take deeper emissions reductions cuts, intensify cooperation and potentially consider punitive measures against the US, such as a carbon tax on US imports.

Last updated: 02 Jun 2017 12:08pm
Professor John Quiggin is an Australian Laureate Fellow in Economics at the University of Queensland

Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Accord is not based on scientific evidence or on the economic interests of the United States, but on the political imperatives of the culture wars being waged by the political right in the US, imperatives that led to his nomination and election.

The announcement itself is primarily symbolic, but other actions of the Trump Administration mean that US emissions will decline more slowly than they should. However, the preliminary evidence is that this action will not be taken as a signal for other countries to follow, but rather as a further indication that the US has abandoned its leadership role in the US economy. The impact will be further reduced by the commitment of California and other state governments to pursue ambitious policies for emissions reductions.

Last updated: 02 Jun 2017 12:08pm

Professor Steven Freeland is Professor of International Law at Western Sydney University

The Paris Climate Change Accord is a landmark agreement that has been accepted by almost 200 countries. Apart from providing mechanisms whereby the level of GHG emissions over the century might be kept to ‘acceptable’ levels, it is highly symbolic. Unlike its precursor – the 1997 Kyoto Protocol framework – it actively engages both industrialised and non-industrialised countries to undertake concrete measures in an attempt to achieve those goals.

To maintain that commitment, clear leadership must be demonstrated by those countries – such as the USA – which are heavy GHG emitters. Their failure to do so clearly undermines the fundamental structure of the Accord and will cause those lesser emitters to rethink their position.

Withdrawal by the USA also sends a negative message to those countries most affected by the impacts of climate change, thus curtailing the credibility and effectiveness of the Accord.

From a geopolitical perspective, President Trump's actions will damage further the position of the USA as a world leader on issues of global concern. Just at a time when a unified approach was required, the USA has now broken ranks. Other countries, in particular China and, to a lesser extent, the EU countries, will actively seek to occupy that space as the driving forces behind the world’s response to the threats posed by climate change, leaving a largely isolated USA on the fringes. This will no doubt have ‘knock-on’ consequences for the role of the USA in other areas as well.

Last updated: 02 Jun 2017 12:05pm
Dr Pep Canadell, CSIRO Research Scientist, and Executive Director of the Global Carbon Project

Regardless of whether the US is part or not of the Paris agreement, its current downward emissions trajectory is unlikely to change significantly, given it is driven by the economics of falling prices and abundance of natural gas and renewable energies.

Where we can expect a large impact from the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement is in building the necessary level of funding (the Green Fund) to support developing and emerging economies towards decarbonization.

These economies are responsible for more than 2/3 of the global carbon emissions and about 100 per cent of all new growth in emissions. Lack of financial instruments to engage with the countries responsible for such a dominant fraction of emissions will fail to bring global emissions down quickly enough. This will require many other countries to increase significantly their level of contributions to the Green Fund and global engagement.

Last updated: 02 Jun 2017 12:04pm

Dr Liz Hanna is President of the Climate & Health Alliance and an Honorary Senior Fellow at the Climate Change Institute, Australian National University

President Trump, in withdrawing the United States from the 2015 Paris Accord, is effectively signing the death warrant for millions who will suffer and die from the effects of additional climate change attributable to this reckless decision.

My message for Mr Trump:

The World Bank does not believe that climate change is a Chinese hoax perpetrated to destroy the American economy. It is quite conservative.

Real news Mr Trump. The World Bank has just announced that “climate change represents a significant obstacle to the sustained eradication of poverty” (1).

Poverty is bad for health. It kills.

The extra heat causes mass death events of people (2), and the global coral reefs (3). Climate change is bad for agriculture. It causes more natural disasters, more floods, more droughts, more fires and more storms. More hunger. Hunger kills. And when hunger doesn’t kill, it causes stunting and robs people of their health and livelihoods. It also drives people into wars, such as the Syrian and the South Sudanese conflicts. Wars kill.

Damages from CO2 emissions today will affect economic outcomes throughout the next several centuries. So today’s and tomorrow’s children will also die. They will die because a man elected to lead the most powerful nation on earth refused to believe in science. The future will call this move for what it is: willful ignorance that became criminal.

1. Hallegatte S, Bangalore M, Bonzanigo L, Fay M, Kane T, Narloch U, et al. Shock Waves Climate Change and Development Series Managing the Impacts of Climate Change on Poverty. Washington DC,: The World Bank; 2017.p. 227.  Report No.: ISBN: 978-1-4648-0674-2. Available from:
2. Hanna EG, Tait  PW. Limitations to thermoregulation and acclimatisation challenges human adaptation to global warming. Int J Environ Res Public Health 2015; 12 (7): 8034-74. doi:10.3390/ijerph120708034.
3. Hughes TP, Barnes ML, Bellwood DR, Cinner JE, Cumming GS, Jackson JBC, et al. Coral reefs in the Anthropocene. Nature. 2017; 546 (7656): 82-90. 10.1038/nature22901

Last updated: 02 Jun 2017 12:04pm
Professor William Laurance is director of the Centre for Tropical Environmental and Sustainability Sciences (TESS) at James Cook University

The U.S. is now just one of two nations on Earth that have withdrawn from the Paris climate accords. When Americans voted for Trump, could they have imagined how far down the rabbit hole he was going to drag them?

Last updated: 02 Jun 2017 12:02pm
David Bowman is Professor of Pyrogeography and Fire Science, and Director of the Fire Centre Research Hub in the School of Natural Sciences, The University of Tasmania

My take on this is simple: climate change is real, it isn’t slowing down so if global agreement on greenhouse gases is derailed by the USA then the race for adaptation will truly begin.

Most rational actors affected by climate change have already joined the dots and appreciate that climate change will affect their current modus operandi.

So, in a perverse sense, the US Federal Government walking away from climate change mitigation will accelerate global adaptation to climate change driven by the actions of individuals to national governments.

The impacts of such adaption are going to be a more expensive and far more disruptive than global agreements to contain greenhouse gas pollution that seek to preserve a familiar and safer climate.

Last updated: 02 Jun 2017 12:02pm
Dr Nerilie Abram is from the Research School of Earth Sciences at The Australian National University

The US is responsible for more than a quarter of the carbon dioxide that has been added to our atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution. Trump’s announcement shirks the responsibility that the US holds in the climate problems that now face the entire world.

The science is clear: if we keep polluting our atmosphere with greenhouse gases then climate change will continue to worsen. And the worse we let it get, the more destructive and expensive it will be. Only a very short-sighted administration would ignore those facts. The US is clearly no longer the world leader that it once was.

Last updated: 02 Jun 2017 12:01pm
Professor Frank Jotzo is Director of the Centre for Climate Economics & Policy at the Australian National University's Crawford School of Public Policy

The biggest damage was done not to global climate action, but to America’s influence and standing in the world community. By pulling out of the Paris Agreement, the United States stands alongside Nicaragua and Syria, while all other countries are in the agreement. Trump’s speech had many falsehoods that most governments will reject. Initial statements by China, Germany, France and others were strong and show a new line of international confrontation.

Global leadership on climate change now will be shared between China, Europe as well as India, Brazil and other emerging economies. With the United States no longer at the table when implementation of the Paris Agreement is decided, progress will be easier to achieve than if a hostile US administration was inside the tent obstructing it.

Trump’s proposition that the United States will “re-negotiate” the Paris Agreement is fanciful. Trump’s speech seemed to indicate a fundamental lack of understanding of what the Paris Agreement is about and how it was possible that almost all nations of the world could agree. Perhaps what Trump meant is that the United States want to replace the US national emissions reductions pledge with a weaker version. This would be in line with the Trump administration abolishing domestic measures to cut carbon emissions.

The upshot is that the US economy will be slower to adopt modern clean energy technologies and industrial systems. Future prosperity does not lie in coal mining jobs but in high tech and services. There are very good reasons why large parts of the US business community lobbied for the United States to remain in the Paris Agreement.

America is taking a backwards step, by relinquishing another piece of global leadership and by steering in the wrong direction economically.

Last updated: 02 Jun 2017 11:58am

Professor Barbara Norman is Foundation Chair Urban & Regional Planning and Director of Canberra Urban & Regional Futures (CURF), University of Canberra

Planning our cities for climate change just took on a whole new dimension!

As the projections for the IPCC on sea level rise look to only increase due to glacial melt, POTUS (the President of the United States) now places our cities and communities in even greater peril. The States of New York and California fully appreciate what is coming and are taking responsibility at the sub-national level on reducing emissions. Many US cities are actively planning for the impacts of extreme events, including wildfire and coastal inundation, to minimise risk to current and future urban communities. The actions of the POTUS has pulled the rug from beneath them but seeing comments coming out from US governors and city mayors today suggests strongly that a sub national coalition of action will only strengthen. For they know what impacts lie ahead for their communities.

Last updated: 02 Jun 2017 11:55am
Dr Paul Read is Senior Research Fellow at the Monash Sustainability Institute at Monash University and a Co-Director of the National Centre for Research in Bushfire and Arson

Trump is a b-grade disaster movie. The Paris Accord will survive him because it has to.  As a species it took us 177 years to become so economically carbonised that our lives literally depend upon it today.

But as the countdown continues, we now have only 33 years to scale back to zero.

So, we have an increasingly short window to reduce emissions globally without crossing a threshold where global catastrophe is assured.  It's already happening.  It's been 30 years since NASA's James Hansen first warned us but we've blundered on with ever-increasing emissions. The US emits 15 per cent of the world's greenhouse emissions, half that of China, but emits 23 times more per person than the world's poor, putting it in the league of Australia, where we each, on average, consume and emit as if there were three planets. The Earth can't process this much in one year so as to get up and do it all again the next year, much less if developing nations stake their own claims on industrialisation so they can lift themselves out of poverty.  So if Trump can't get his economic house in order on current emissions,there is no hope that the US will be technically agile enough to adapt into the future on lesser amounts leading up to 2050. That'll once again make the inevitable descent to lower emissions that much sharper and more painful, economically, for younger Americans; the same intergenerational risk Australia faces. It won't make America great again. It'll make it a protectionist fossil and a global pariah.

Last updated: 02 Jun 2017 11:54am
Dr Christian Downie is a Research Fellow and the Higher Degree Research Convenor in the School of Regulation and Global Governance, RegNet, (from 1 May 2017) at The Australian National University

President Trump’s announcement overnight that he will withdraw the US from the Paris climate agreement comes as no surprise. After all this is the man who claimed that climate change was a hoax created by the Chinese.

While it will take some years for the US to withdraw, the question now is who will lead global climate action in the US’ absence?

There are good reasons for China and Europe to come together and form a powerful bloc to lead to international efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. China is now the world’s number one energy consumer and greenhouse gas emitter and should it combine forces with Europe it has the potential to lead the world and prevents other nations from following the US down the path of inaction.

There are very early signs that this may now be happening. Reports yesterday indicate that Beijing and Brussels have already agreed to measures to accelerate action on climate change in line with Paris climate agreement.

Last updated: 02 Jun 2017 11:53am

Professor Chris Wright is from the Business School at the University of Sydney

Over the next decade, businesses will need to plan for an increasingly uncertain and volatile world of growing market, regulatory and physical risk.

Although not surprising given his previous statements, President Trump’s announcement today that he intends to withdraw the US from the Paris climate agreement represents a major setback in humanity's attempt to avoid catastrophic climate change.

Last updated: 02 Jun 2017 11:52am

Professor Caroline A. Sullivan is Professor of Environmental Economics and Policy, at Southern Cross University

The withdrawal from the Paris Agreement confirms the increasingly nationalistic position being promoted by the current president of the United States. While it may be admirable to support the employment needs of your country, it may not be wise to do that at the expense of your international reputation.  Such shameful self-centredness by the richest and most powerful country in the world suggests that America cares nothing for the future of the very world itself.

No doubt the inner circle of the American government have been advised on this topic by some of the best scientists in the world, but being given advice doesn’t mean taking it, as we can clearly see.  Without doubt, millions of Americans will disagree with this decision, and will be embarrassed at the image it portrays of a selfish nation thinking only of its own self-interest.

When this is compared to the much more responsible position being taken by other powerful nations such as China, it is easy to see how this action will lose America much credibility and international respect. Fortunately, the main impact of this decision will not come into effect until 2020, the earliest date when such a US withdrawal is technically possible under the Paris agreement.

Perhaps by then we may see a change of position, especially if the USA experiences more of the extreme events which have come to characterise the onset of the Anthropocene. No doubt this decision is being made by the president to satisfy internal political conditions, under the unfortunate misapprehension that this is not a real threat to his own nation’s wellbeing. It is good to know that our government has no appetite to mimic this position.

Last updated: 02 Jun 2017 11:51am

Professor Phil McManus is from the School of Geosciences at the University of Sydney

Let’s be clear – the Paris climate Accord is not a panacea for solving anthropogenic climate change. It falls far short of what atmospheric scientists deem necessary to prevent dangerous climate change. It was, however, the best political arrangement possible at the international level.

Last updated: 02 Jun 2017 11:50am

Associate Professor Robyn Alders is from the School of Life and Environmental Sciences and Charles Perkins Centre, the University of Sydney

The impact of climate change will be generally detrimental for food security in many parts of the world. Warming and drying is expected to reduce crop yields by 10 to 20 per cent over the next three decades, while increasing temperatures are likely to increase spoilage and contamination.

Last updated: 02 Jun 2017 11:50am

Professor Tim Stephens is from the University of Sydney Law School

US withdrawal from the landmark Paris Agreement, a treaty that has almost universal global support, will cause great reputational damage to the US and could seriously undermine efforts to address dangerous climate change. However withdrawal is not straightforward and depending on the form it takes could be a legally protracted and difficult process; one that could be impossible to achieve within a first term of the Trump Administration.

Last updated: 02 Jun 2017 11:49am

Professor Rosemary Lyster is Director of the Australian Centre for Climate and Environmental Law at the University of Sydney Law School

Trump's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement is reminiscent of President Bush's withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol. Under the Paris Agreement, parties can only withdraw three years after the agreement comes into effect i.e. 4 November 2016, and then it takes another year after the notification to withdraw is received. So, legally speaking, withdrawal will be an election issue in the next American Presidential elections. But, politically speaking, Trump's withdrawal signals to the international community that his administration will begin to wind back and repeal regulatory actions taken to address climate change by the Federal government, especially the Environment Protection Agency, under the Obama administration. However, the multilateral negotiations will continue just as they did after the US withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol.

Last updated: 02 Jun 2017 11:47am
Professor Bill Pritchard is from the School of Geosciences, University of Sydney

In a cruel twist of timing, Donald Trump was elected President during the same week that the Paris climate Agreement came into force. Perhaps when future historians trawl over the effects of the 2016 Presidential campaign, the changing political affinities of the American working class will be a footnote, against the headline effects of how it affected the fate of the planet.

Last updated: 02 Jun 2017 11:41am

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