If the Paris climate agreement does eventually help the world mitigate some of the long-term effects of climate change, there is one more person we will need to thank: Donald J. Trump.
Earlier this week, the United Nations announced that the agreement to try to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 22 percent by the year 2030 will go into effect on Nov. 4. The pact was adopted just 10 months ago by 195 countries under the auspices of the U.N. In order for it to become binding, 55 countries representing 55 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions had to ratify the treaty.
Wednesday’s announcement that Canada, India, Nepal and the European Union have all ratified the agreement means that 73 countries, accounting for 57 percent of the world’s emissions, have now signed on. Reaching these thresholds this fast counts as nearly miraculous for the U.N., since global treaties often need years to hit such targets. For example, the Kyoto Protocol, another worldwide environmental agreement, took seven years after its adoption to hit the 55 countries and 55 percent of emissions requirements.
The speed with which countries have ratified the Paris agreement is possibly due to the fact that even the largest, most heavily polluting nations are finally recognizing that man-made climate change is an immediate and urgent threat to the planet. But it is also due in no small part to another urgent planetary threat: the chance of Donald Trump's winning the presidency.
Trump has been as much of a demagogue on this issue as any other. He once claimed global warming was a “hoax” made up by China in order to hurt U.S. manufacturing. He later claimed this statement was a joke, but it was not the only time he has called climate change a “hoax” or “nonsense.” Unfortunately this is the standard line for Republicans — just in case any of them are still wondering how Trump managed to snag the nomination.
During the campaign, Trump has repeatedly threatened to pull the country out of the Paris agreement. It has been one more of his long litany of “bad deals” that the Obama administration and past presidents have made that have hurt American workers by establishing burdensome regulations that have limited job growth.
As he has done with claims that the North American Free Trade Agreement is solely responsible for American factories' fleeing to Mexico or that the nuclear agreement with Iran is making our nation less safe somehow, the real estate mogul has used the Paris agreement to bludgeon progressivism, push his nativist “America First” line and present himself as the one hero standing between national prosperity and dissolution at the hands of (usually nonwhite) foreigners.
Speaking of emissions of toxic gas that are slowly destroying the planet.
This is not to say the Paris agreement is necessarily a planet saver. Despite its having signed it, the United States is not legally bound to follow through on reducing emissions. And even if the U.S. and all other signatories hit their emissions-reduction targets, there's no guarantee that the planet’s warming will slow down. A Trump administration could put the kibosh on even this level of commitment simply by repealing environmental regulations or gutting the Environmental Protection Agency, even if it can’t unilaterally pull out of the agreement without the consent of Congress.
And yet, the agreement is better than nothing. At least most of the world is trying to do something about climate change, even if those efforts end up being futile.
So thank you, Donald Trump. Without your timely demagoguery, many of the world’s nations might have dragged their heels on committing to this agreement. Your contribution to the planet’s continued survival and well-being will not go unnoticed — unless you become president.