Donald Trump’s looming decision about whether to keep the United States in the Paris climate agreement will be, let’s say, anticlimactic. It will be a surprise if the global-warming skeptic who has called the phenomenon a hoax breaks a campaign pledge by sticking with the 2015 agreement. If he pulls out, though, the actual impact on the climate and on global efforts to limit warming will be limited.
The accord reached in the French capital 18 months ago among nearly 200 countries should have more than enough momentum even without Washington’s support. Even America’s domestic role in efforts to limit global warming is only partially up to the federal government. The Trump administration can enact policies that favor coal over renewable energy or try to overturn clean-air and water programs. At the margin, those initiatives may worsen emissions or slow the rollout of clean energy and other green initiatives.
However, a lot of responsibility is devolved to states and cities, many of which have signed up to their own climate goals. The Under2 Coalition, for example, now has 170 members comprising more than a third of the global economy. It was created by the U.S. state of California and Germany’s Baden-Württemberg to align sub-national governments with the Paris targets.
Companies play an important role, too. The likes of General Motors, Wal-Mart and Apple have committed to use only renewable energy in the future, for instance. Sometimes they take such decisions of their own accord; other times, investors put pressure on them. Fidelity, for example, will now allow portfolio managers to vote for shareholder resolutions on climate-related issues even when company bosses don’t support them, Reuters exclusively reported, joining other major U.S. asset managers like State Street and BlackRock.
Meanwhile, some 280 investors representing more than $17 trillion in assets just sent a letter to the G7 countries, meeting this weekend in Sicily, urging them to stick by the Paris agreement.
That all means a withdrawal by Trump would be largely symbolic. It would come at a cost, though. With public opinion in much of the world going the other way, it would do further damage to America’s overseas reputation and its ability to project soft power.
It could even hurt the U.S. economy. The renewable-energy sector employs far more Americans than coal, for example. And increasing infrastructure spending to combat climate change could boost G20 economic output by 5 percent, reckons the OECD. Missing out on that would be an odd call from a businessman-president.