One Night In Paris

The world went to bed and woke to the grim realisation that America has signalled its intention to leave the Paris Climate Accord, signed at COP21.

Of all POTUS45’s election pledges this one has received significant attention since it first aired late last night (01/06/2017). But hold on. Let’s not get too dreary eyed and chauvinistic about America’s departure. Firstly let’s look at this in historical context: After George Bush Senior’s impeccable leadership at the Rio Earth Summit, back in ’92, America has pretty much been a laggard at the international level of climate policy ever since. It was George Bush Junior who rallied the sceptics and failed to ratify the Kyoto Protocol and now Trump has pulled the plug again.

However, their latest affirmation to climate scepticism is slightly more concerning. The KP was predicated on OECD countries significantly reducing the carbon intensity of their economies (mitigation). This negatively affected US economic prospects and industry. It also honoured “Common but differentiated responsibilities and capabilities” as enshrined in the Convention. This has been the thorn in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change since time immemorial. In plain English, it does temporarily place OECD economies at a disadvantage because large Newly Industrialising Countries are able to continue polluting without a care in the world.

Paris broke the maligned stalemate in the climate negotiations. It did this in two distinct waves. Firstly, the Xi-Obama summit where both leaders pledged joint global leadership a year before Paris. This set the scene for the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, which the FCCC Secretariat required by October 2015: two months prior to the Paris round of negotiations. The second and architecturally significant movement came with the unanimous acceptance of Nationally Determined Contributions. These honoured the principle of CBRD but also recognised that each country has its own unique economic challenges and mitigation milestones. In short: Paris introduced flexibility into the climate regime which up until December 2015 had been dominated by top-down iron fist politics. Paris was bottom-up, country-centric and admitted that previous approaches had not worked.

By signalling America’s intention to withdraw from a framework which is country-driven is beyond comprehension. New York Times correspondent Thomas Friedman has shouted and cried about America’s lack of leadership, Eurasia Group’s Ian Bremmer calls our period the G0 (characterised by no global leadership), and I could continue. By leaving Paris, Trump has signalled America’s political elite are insular and parochial. This is one deal that can’t be renegotiated and it is refreshing to hear Merkel and the Chinese step up to the plate. Leadership will be found. Solutions to problems implemented. We just won’t have a belligerent America at the negotiating table. In fact, let’s lock away the Anglo-Saxons: they seem to be turning their noses up at every global institution at the moment.

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