By Assad Bhuglah,
Climate change is the most portent issue that will drive the global agenda for several years to come. By exiting from the Climate Change pact, President Donald Trump has in fact walked away from the role of global leadership that the United States has held since the end of the Second World War. Out of the 197 countries that had signed the agreement last year, 147 have already ratified it. This signifies a serious policy reversal of the US from the commitments made at Paris deals and it is a significant blow to cooperative efforts to contain the rise in global temperatures. It is the most radical departure from a bipartisan US foreign policy since 1945. US's self-isolation becomes officially visible.
From the start of his political career, Trump has seemed to be unaware of post-World War history and ignorant of the accomplishments made by the US in establishing a new international system. He has consistently been dismissive of the United States' closest political, economic and moral allies. The consequences of Trump's stance and his actions are difficult to foresee. They might result in the slow erosion of the liberal international order.
As the biggest contributor of global carbon emissions, the US has a special responsibility to lead in the area of climate change. There is a precedent that it had walked away from an important global arrangement, the Kyoto Protocol, at the last minute under president George Bush Jr. This cycle of entering into and then walking away from international cooperative efforts to mitigate climate change does serious harm to America’s role as a global leader, and leaves a vacuum that is easily filled by rising powers such as China. The fact that only a few days before his disastrous decision to pull out of the Paris Agreement, President Trump was in Europe diluting his country’s commitment to the NATO umbrella will also be seen as a dent in America’s leadership role. The silver lining here is that it could take up to four years to actually make a departure from the NATO agreement since there are strong laws governing exit, and by then there might well be a new US administration in power more amenable to staying. But the troubling signals coming out of Washington, D.C. have already echoed in capitals around the world. Germany is now openly considering less reliance on America, while China is talking of international commitments. Whatever Mr Trump does, it seems the world might yet adapt and carry on with or without his assent.
As the largest polluter and producer of carbon emissions in the world, the U.S’s pledge would account for more than 20 percent of expected emission cuts. Therefore, the withdrawal of the U.S. from a landmark agreement initiated by its own will and signed by 196 countries (except Syria and Nicaragua) towards a common aspiration of mankind for a low-carbon future has generated widespread frustration. It will be important to see the positions on environmental politics and if there will be spill over to other issues that could shift the global roles of other powers. If spill over happens, the world may witness the first steps of a major transformation of global politics. Then the question becomes what the role of the United States in this new global order is or how U.S interests would overlap with these new rules that other powers are trying to rewrite.
It appears that a soft beginning of isolationism in U.S. foreign policy is in motion. However, it is not clear how this selective isolationism will work out in such a globalized and interconnected world. The reactions of other international actors following Trump's decision demonstrated and further contributed to this ambiguity. In the immediate aftermath of Trump's statement in which he said the U.S is pulling out from the treaty and will start to renegotiate for a better deal, France, Italy and Germany made a joint statement underlining that the U.S cannot unilaterally renegotiate the treaty. The U.N repeated the same position as well. The reactions from these three European countries were particularly significant considering that the leaders of these countries recently met with Trump both at the NATO and G7 summits. Following these summits, German Chancellor Angela Merkel's statements questioning the U.S.'s reliability concerning the security of Europe was particularly significant given it was probably the first such statements after decades and given that the statement came shortly after Trump's debated address at the new NATO headquarters. This time, following the Paris Accord decision and Trump's statements, French President Emmanuel Macron made a televised statement that appeals to the Americans about the climate accord that ended with the slogan: "Make Planet Great Again", a retort to Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again”. These two statements, of course, are important for the future of the trans-Atlantic alliance and partnership.
Soon after the reactions of European countries, China made a similar statement about the Paris Climate Accord, indicating that Beijing will continue to recognize its commitment to cutting carbon emissions. The same day, the Chinese media called on the U.S to rethink its decision while President Xi Jinping's attendance at an event for green sensitivity was shown on Chinese television. Some considered China's position as an attempt by Beijing to fill the leadership role in the international system.
Trump's decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord may be an important turning point in the perception of the United States around the world and expectations concerning its leadership in the international system. The decision also raised mixed reactions in the U.S. While some consider this decision as one of the most consequential mistakes in U.S. foreign policy and describe it as a U.S resignation from the leadership of the free world, others emphasized the primacy of U.S interests and the end of a period of unfair treatment of the U.S in the world. The tone and intensity of debate, at least in the media so far, shows that this issue is a candidate to become a major fault line in U.S politics and society, and a major factor that will shape voter behaviour in the 2020 elections.