President Trump’s announcement that the United States will withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change has been a long time coming, and the European Union is well prepared. While the United States is not legally able to withdraw from the Paris Agreement until November 2020, Trump’s announcement has multiple consequences.

Trump has ordered the cessation of federal efforts to implement the US Nationally Determined Contribution under the Paris framework, nullifying the credibility of its emission reduction targets. The United States is the world’s second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases.


Additionally, Trump has reneged on the $2 billion that the US had pledged to the Green Climate Fund but not yet paid, blowing a major hole in the $10 billion pledged so far. In doing so, Trump is effectively picking the pockets of communities in poorer countries that rely on international support to adapt to the effects of climate change and to build sustainable, low-emissions economies.

Finally, Trump’s stated intention to fundamentally renegotiate the Paris Agreement raises the possibility that American diplomats could be instructed to disrupt the current negotiation over the ‘Paris rulebook’. Whether this strategy is pursued or not should become apparent at the November climate conference in Bonn.

Trump’s stated intention to fundamentally renegotiate the Paris Agreement raises the possibility that American diplomats could be instructed to disrupt the current negotiation over the ‘Paris rulebook’

Trump’s announcement represents an abdication of climate responsibility by the US government, but not the United States as a whole. Since Trump’s announcement, the commitment of American states, cities and businesses to climate action has been reaffirmed through a number of initiatives, and the UN provides multiple opportunities for non-state actors to participate. These include the Non-State Actor Zone for Climate Action, the 2050 pathways platform for mid-century, low-emission strategies and the Global Climate Action Agenda.

There are further opportunities for non-state actors to participate in climate governance at the more programmatic level, such as through the Technical Examination Process to ramp up pre-2020 action on mitigation and adaptation and by providing technical assistance as network members of the Climate Technology Centre and Network. Financial and development institutions may also participate directly in the mobilisation of climate finance by becoming Accredited Entities of the Green Climate Fund.

For the EU, Trump’s position is both a practical and a normative challenge. The US assault on the Paris Agreement unsettles a painstakingly crafted ‘package deal’ in which all major countries and groups compromised to achieve a consensus. As Swedish foreign minister Margot Wallström has written, ‘[t]he message from science is that we are all in this together: south and north, west and east’. Trump’s flouting of this common endeavour carries unpredictable consequences. No country has yet declared it will join the United States in going rogue, but the diplomacy to keep climate action ratcheting up instead of down is difficult even without the US headwind.

Trump’s rejection of climate cooperation also challenges the EU’s deep normative commitment to tackling climate change. This commitment is embedded at the highest level of EU law, with the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union obliging the EU to promote measures at the international level to combat climate change. It is therefore appropriate that the European response to ‘make America great again’ is not an equally parochial rejoinder, but rather to ‘make our planet great again’.

The initial EU response to the US announcement has effectively contributed to maintaining the Paris consensus

The initial EU response to the US announcement has effectively contributed to maintaining the Paris consensus. The European Council has reaffirmed the commitment of EU Member States to the Paris Agreement. The European Council stated that the ‘Agreement remains a cornerstone of global efforts to effectively tackle climate change, and cannot be renegotiated’. In addition, the European Council announced its intention to ‘enhance cooperation with international partners’ and to work closely with non-state actors. Already, this work has yielded a broad united front with African, Caribbean and Pacific countries and agreement with China and Canada to co-host a ministerial climate summit in September. A lot of work is going into strengthening EU-China cooperation, which will be vital for both implementing Paris and strengthening national commitments.

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To sustain this momentum, much will depend on the reinvigoration of a progressive, Europeanist political leadership as represented by Emmanuel Macron, acting on the inescapable conclusion articulated by Angela Merkel that ‘we Europeans truly have to take our fate into our own hands’. The EU and international partners must leave the door open for the United States to re-engage under less short-sighted leadership, but meanwhile forge ahead without waiting to see how the Trump melodrama unfolds. The immediate response in Europe and elsewhere offers hope that this will occur. Building on this momentum will ensure that when it comes to effective global action on climate change, the Trump administration is a speed bump, not a roadblock.

Photo: Nicole S Glass /

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