Climate Crisis: Global Leadership During the Trump Era


A power station in the San Fernando Valley, California (Getty Images).


On June 1, 2017, President Trump announced his intention to withdraw the United States from the Accord de Paris (Paris Climate Agreement). This decision is regularly cited as a politically driven move to win points by remaining consistent with his campaign promises, but the results will affect more than just voters at home. The United States has a larger international role than most countries: it is looked to as a global leader that can guide the world in the right direction. Unfortunately, the president’s “America First” policy is in contradiction with this responsibility. The president is right to value American interests; nonetheless, when the future of humanity is threatened by climate change, it is in America’s best interest to take the lead and combat the threat.

The agreement was a comprehensive international treaty signed by 195 states. The goal of this deal was to combat the threat of climate change by setting up realistic emission-reduction goals that all nations, small and large, could follow. The treaty was signed under the Obama administration, as the former president was a vocal supporter in the fight against global warming. The deal set some timed goals for carbon emission reductions, temperature control, and financial backing for developing nations. While the goals are detailed, much of the deal— including the carbon emission reduction goals— is non-binding. This means two things: first, the deal is easy to follow, and, second, the deal is easy to cheat on. The second part is tangentially related to President Trump’s argument for wanting to leave.

When President Trump took office, his main focus was to deliver on his campaign promises, one of which included “cancelling” the Paris Agreement. The main reasons he stressed was that the United States was paying billions as part of the treaty, while countries like India, China, and Russia were not. At face value, the claim is true. The U.S. agreed to pay up to $3 billion and had already contributed around a third of that when the U.S. decided to pull out, whereas the three aforementioned countries had not contributed as much. But there is a reason for that.

The climate agreement set particular goals, including the allocation of funding for developing states. Developed and underdeveloped countries were split into categories titled Annex 1 and  non-Annex 1, respectively. The U.S. and Russia are Annex 1 states, which is why they are expected to contribute a determined level of monetary aid to the non-Annex 1 countries. President Trump accurately stated that Russia does not pay its part—but Russia also has not ratified the agreement. China and India are both on the non-Annex 1 list, making them dependents to help in the effort to reverse climate change. While it may initially seem unfair that the U.S. is required to pay more than other nations, the president should remember that the country serves as the global hegemon. Moreover, the U.S. is the single biggest polluter in world history. The Paris Climate Agreement is an effort to bring together all nations to work together and save the future of the planet. The U.S has the chance to be at the forefront of it. “America First” does not mean “America Alone.”

While President Trump made the decision to withdraw a little over eight months ago, the importance of the issue has not changed. Every day that the world does not act as a whole to combat climate change is another day wasted. The Paris Climate Agreement built a foundation for states to work together because climate change is not an issue that can be solved by one nation alone. It will take a collective effort to change the trajectory of the global climate for the better. Because the U.S. cannot officially withdraw until 2020, there is a chance a new president will take office and reverse the intended withdrawal. It is crucial that America’s leader in 2020 is prepared to not only support the fight against climate change, but to take the lead in it.


Leave a Reply