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Leaving Paris

President Donald J. Trump fulfilled a campaign promise yesterday and, in announcing that the United States would withdraw from the Paris Agreement,[1] filled his nationalist,[2] climate-change-denying[3] supporters with glee. His speech was filled to the brim with inaccuracies, about both climate change and the Paris Agreement.

I will select just one of President Trump’s fantastical statements, as an example: “…as of today, the United States will cease all implementation of the non-binding Paris Accord and the draconian financial and economic burdens the agreement imposes on our country. This includes ending the implementation of the nationally determined contribution and, very importantly, the Green Climate Fund, which is costing the United States a vast fortune.”[4] Well, where to begin?

  •  Implementation of the Paris Agreement starts in 2020. Each country’s nationally determined contribution (“NDC”—its voluntary emissions-reduction pledge) begins in 2020, as well. So there’s nothing to cease right now, in the Rose Garden or elsewhere. There are ongoing discussions among parties to the Paris Agreement about the rules and measures necessary for implementing the accord; presumably the U.S. government no longer wishes to have a say in shaping those.
  • The Paris Agreement does not impose many burdens of any kind on its parties. There are some mandatory reporting requirements, and each party must submit updated NDCs every five years. There are no legal requirements concerning the content of the NDCs, nor are there penalties for failing to achieve NDC targets. One of the big ideas behind the Paris Agreement is that each national government can decide for itself how ambitious—and how costly—of an emissions-reduction pledge it wishes to put forward. The “agreement” doesn’t “impose” costs, draconian or otherwise (unless perhaps we count the endless hours our dedicated foreign-service officers must spend sitting in negotiating sessions).
  • The Green Climate Fund (GCF)[5] was not established by the Paris Agreement, but by the Sixteenth Conference of the Parties (COP-16) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), meeting in late 2010 in Cancun, Mexico. (The Paris Agreement is, in a loose sense, a treaty that is derived from the Convention.) The GCF receives money from developed countries and does indeed distribute it to developing countries, for emissions-reductions projects and for adaptation to climate change. The United States made a commitment of $3 billion to the GCF,[6] in connection with the Paris Agreement (which does reference the GCF), and the Obama administration conveyed $1 billion before leaving office. I will leave it to the reader to decide whether either figure constitutes a “vast fortune” in the context of the U.S. government’s budget. Finally, the GCF is a multilateral body within the UNFCCC system, and it is not within the United States’ power to “end its implementation.”

One could continue, line by line, but let’s move on.

Yesterday’s decision will have little short-term impact on U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions. Trump and his colleagues have already been busily dismantling the Obama administration’s domestic climate-change regulations;[7] pulling out of Paris won’t move us backwards any faster.

Neither will the decision have much short- or medium-term impact on the U.S. economy, for better or worse. As noted, Paris hasn’t—and won’t—impose major costs, so pulling out won’t benefit the economy much. Some observers suggest that withdrawing from Paris will delay deployment of renewable energy in the United States.[8] It’s hard for me to see how that could be true, however, in the near term; the economic and technological forces driving “clean energy” growth have nothing to do with the Paris Agreement. (Again, domestic policy in the United States—at both the federal and state levels—have significantly advanced renewables, and the Trump administration is indeed attempting to undercut these policies, partly to support coal interests.)

So, then, why is it significant that President Trump is pulling the United States out of Paris?[9] Climate change is what economists call a “global commons” problem.[10] To cut a longer story short, because greenhouse-gas emissions in one location cause climate change throughout the world, then international cooperation is ultimately necessary to address the problem. The Paris Agreement, for the first time in history, provided a platform for international cooperation that included all the major-emitting countries in the world.[11] Because NDCs are voluntary, the aggregate emissions reduction they achieve will be inadequate, at first, to address climate change sufficiently. However, there are other (ingenious, in my view) features of the Agreement that are intended to incentivize increased ambition over time. This process will be gradual, but the cooperation it yields is likely to be stable and ultimately more effective than previous multilateral efforts (most notably the Kyoto Protocol). The Paris Agreement constitutes a strong institutional foundation for increasingly ambitious action over time.[12]

The United States is the second-largest emitter in the world, after China, and our withdrawing from Paris will upset the delicate balance of dynamic (that is, evolving over time) multilateral cooperation needed to adequately reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. So—yes—it is significant—and disappointing—that that President Trump has decided to withdraw.

But wait a minute.[13] How exactly will this dynamic process play out? The United States, given its significant emissions, could, by withdrawing, indeed discourage other countries and start a destructive cycle of declining ambition. But very early reactions to Trump’s decision suggest that other major emitters might instead be motivated by the United States’ withdrawal to increase their ambition.[14] The European Union reacted swiftly and harshly to Trump’s announcement. This was not a big surprise; Europe is deeply committed to addressing climate change. Chinese leaders also criticized the decision and may determine that it is in their national interest to fill the leadership vacuum that President Trump created. European and Chinese leaders are announcing tomorrow their most ambitious bilateral initiative to address climate change. A draft of their joint announcement states that “…multilateralism can succeed in building fair and effective solutions to the most critical global problems of our time.”[15] It also made oblique reference to the U.S. decision to withdraw from Paris and the need to fill the resulting ambition gap. Finally, India, the world’s fourth biggest emitter, has suggested it might move more quickly to combat climate change in face of Trump’s decision. (It had already been phasing out coal more quickly than expected.[16])

Within the United States, Trump’s decision has energized sub-national jurisdictions—“blue” states and cities. Most importantly, California’s governor, Jerry Brown, has boldly promised to do what he can to translate the state’s already-aggressive climate-change policies into international action, to replace some of the leadership that Trump has decided to forego.[17] Sub-national policy, however ambitious, cannot substitute for strong federal initiatives to reduce emissions—and states cannot be party to international governmental agreements. However, U.S. states and cities could send a message to the world—that the United States is still serious about addressing climate change—and thereby help keep the Paris-Agreement dynamic moving in a positive direction.

I don’t know if President Trump really believed all the things he said in his speech yesterday about the Paris Agreement. (I hesitate to try to get inside his head; I’m not sure it’s safe to do so.) We do know that he is driven primarily by nationalism, and climate change is the ultimate supra-national problem. Trump is inherently skeptical about international cooperation, which is eminently important in confronting climate change.[18] Ironically, however, in abandoning this particular multilateral enterprise , in which the nations of the world had invested years of effort and a great deal of passionate concern, and on which the hopes of many vulnerable countries rest, he may have unintentionally laid the groundwork for more rapid emissions reduction, even before the Paris Agreement is implemented. At the same time, he energized many sub-national jurisdictions within the United States that, while incapable of fully rectifying the environmental damage he is doing, may nonetheless represent our country in a constructive manner during this unfortunate interregnum.

[1] The text of the Paris Agreement is here:

[2] Edward-Isaac Dovere, “Trump’s nationalism wins out again,” Politico, June 1, 2017,

[3] Tom DiChristopher, “Scott Pruitt’s latest climate change denial sparks backlash from scientists and environmentalists,” CNBC, March 9, 2017,

[4] The text of President Trump’s speech, with notes by National Public Radio correspondents, is here: See also analysis and commentary by Nathaniel Keohane, “Trump just walked away from a great deal on climate,” Forbes, June 1, 2017,

[5]; The President made some wildly erroneous statements about the GCF in his speech; see Karen Orenstein, “Five things Trump’s Paris speech got wrong in his attack on the Green Climate Fund,” June 1, 2017,; Benjy Sarlin, “Why Trump is seeing red about the Green Climate Fund,” NBC News, June 1, 2017,

[6] GCF, “Status of pledges and contributions made to the Green Climate Fund, May 12, 2017,

[7] See Marc Hafstead, “On Trump, Paris, and greenhouse gas emissions,” Resources for the Future blog post, May 1, 2017,

[8] For example, Jeff McDermott, “Leaving the Paris Agreement could cripple American businesses,” Fortune,

[9] See also Ban Ki-moon and Robert N. Stavins, “The United States and the Paris Agreement; A Pivotal Moment,” Harvard Project on Climate Agreements, April 2017,

[10] Robert N. Stavins, “The Problem of the Commons: Still Unsettled after 100 Years,” American Economic Review, vol. 101, February 2011, pages 81–108,

[11] Robert Stowe, “Differentiation, financial support, and the Paris Climate Talks,” The Energy Collective, November 12, 2015,

[12] See also Robert N. Stavins, “Paris Agreement—a good foundation for meaningful progress,” blog post, December 12, 2015,

[13] See related analysis in Luke Kemp, “Better out than In,” Nature Climate Change, May 22, 2017,; cited in Chelsea Harvey, “These experts say it may actually be best if the U.S. left the Paris Agreement,” Washington Post, May 31, 2017,

[14] Somini Sengupta, et al., “As Trump exits Paris Agreement, other nations are defiant,” New York Times, June 1, 2017,; Aria Bendix, “The global reaction to Trump’s climate change decision,” The Atlantic, May 31, 2017,

[15] Citied in Jean Chemnick, “For the first time China and EU to join forces on climate,” Science, May 31, 2017,

[16] Kavya Balaraman, “India’s energy landscape is rapidly changing,” Scientific American, April 26, 2017,

[17] David Siders, “Jerry Brown defies Trump on world stage,” Politico, June 1, 2017,

[18] The Paris Agreement allows parties to revise NDCs at any time. If President Trump and his colleagues were really concerned about costs and nothing else, they could have cranked the ambition of our NDC down a few notches. The text of the Paris Agreement makes clear that revisions should make climate action more ambitious, but there is no legal requirement that such revisions do so.

Photo Credit: Bradley Weber

Robert Stowe's picture

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Willem Post's picture
Willem Post on Jun 2, 2017 2:44 pm GMT


It is important for people to understand COP-21 includes pledged total CO2 emission reductions about 100 times too little to achieve 2 C or less.

COP-21 is a non-binding, CO2 emission reduction agreement, which aims to limit the world temperature to 2 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial level during the 1861 – 1880 period. By 2015, the increase was about 1.1 C. That leaves just 0.9 C to go. This may appear minor, but is not, as any CO2 emitted today would not have a GW impact until many years later.

Based on present CO2 emission, population growth, and economic growth trends, the 2 C increase likely would be reached by about 2045, and a 4.3 C increase likely would be reached by 2100, based on the MIT and Lomberg analyses.

MIT claims, with FULL implementation of the voluntary, Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) agreed to during the COP-21 conference, and kept in place till 2100, COP-21 would prevent about 0.2 C of any warming that would occur by 2100, i.e., instead of 4.3 C from pre-industrial baseline, it would be 4.1 C by 2100. See Page 2 of MIT URL. Bjorn Lomberg estimates COP-21 would prevent about 0.17 C, in close agreement with the MIT estimate.

That means the agreed COP-21 emission reduction would be grossly insufficient. In fact, the COP-21 emission reduction would have to be increased by about a factor of 100 to achieve the 2 C target, according to Bjorn Lomberg. Based on outcomes of about a dozen prior COPs, the RE investments required for such a huge CO2 emission reduction likely will not take place. See Lomberg URL. Energy %26 Climate Outlook.pdf

As part of COP-21, the US offered an INDC to reduce US CO2 emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, which President Obama never did submit to Congress, as it would have been voted down. The INDC CO2 emission reduction would be at a 14% more rapid rate during the 2015 – 2025 period, than during the 2005 – 2015 period, which greatly benefitted from the reduced burning of coal and increased burning of natural gas. See below table with 2025 targets based on data from Page ES-10 of URL.

Willem Post's picture
Willem Post on Jun 2, 2017 2:46 pm GMT


Below is an estimate of capital cost.

Many people think we can have 90% of ALL primary energy from renewables for 10 billion people and their economies by 2050, or by 2100. Prorating the $33 billion cost of Vermont’s energy transformation* for 10 billion people would be $33 b x 10000/0.625 = $528 trillion, adjusting for per capita income would be 12,380/47,000 x 528 = $139 trillion.

* The Vermont goal is 90% of ALL primary energy from renewables by 2050, not just electrical energy.

NOTE: The gross world product was about $78 trillion, or $78 trillion/6.3 b = $12,380/capita, in 2014. Vermont’s GDP/capita was about $47,000 in 2015.

World Spending on RE is Grossly Inadequate for COP-21 Goals: World spending on renewables was about $300 billion in 2015, of which about $100 billion by China. Some RE people, during and after COP-21, called for RE spending to be increased to $1.0 trillion/y. The numbers indicate the world is under-spending by large factors.

– $139 trillion/34 y = $4.09 trillion/y would be required until 2050; under-spending factor of 13.6
– $139 trillion/84 y = $1.65 trillion/y would be required until 2100; under-spending factor of 5.5…

However, significant categories of costs are not included in above estimates, such as having a transformed transportation system and other infrastructures, various transformed industries, healthcare systems, defense systems, education systems, etc., all that to be transformed with renewable energy, which is generally more expensive than traditional energy sources, if storage and grid costs are added and subsidies are taken away.

Huge Nuclear Build-Outs Are Needed: Such RE build-outs will never happen, unless massive nuclear plant capacity, MW, is built, and that capacity would have to provide about 70% of all world energy (not just electrical energy) to replace fossil fuels with syn-fuels, plus generate about 70% of the world’s electricity. Modern renewables (wind, solar, hydro, etc.) would provide the other 30% of all world energy. At present modern renewables provide about 10%. See below table.

NOTE: France generates about 80% of its electricity with nuclear plants, equivalent to about 35% of its primary energy. France has the lowest electric rates in west Europe.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jun 2, 2017 4:38 pm GMT

Robert, you write

One of the big ideas behind the Paris Agreement is that each national government can decide for itself how ambitious—and how costly—of an emissions-reduction pledge it wishes to put forward.

What “big idea”? Are world leaders really in need of a self-congratulatory meeting in a foreign capitol to make ambitious emissions-reduction plans? A pat on the back for such an empty gesture?

If so, psychotherapy is in order.

Tell you what – let’s set aside money now for a 2040 celebration of world leaders in Paris if – and only if – goals for that date are reached. Then, we’ll have something other than political posturing to celebrate. Avoir un sens?

Rick Engebretson's picture
Rick Engebretson on Jun 2, 2017 6:01 pm GMT

Bob, politics du jour aside, please consider the combined issues of DOD funding, re-directed climate funding, infrastructure funding, and various homeland security threats to vector directly to small hardened nuclear electric generation facilities.

The 1960s were great, but there must be a very long wish list by now of nuclear design upgrades to make us competitive in emerging markets and viable for the 21st century. When my clunker DOS computer with CRT got old, I upgraded.

BTW, you can still be a Bernie Sanders supporter and help our country. No Trump supporter (that I know) will hate you. Time to put your plan out front.

Finally, the only thing I know about nuclear power, it seems to work well if you’re very careful. So I’ll always just stick with making black dirt.

Roger Arnold's picture
Roger Arnold on Jun 5, 2017 12:22 am GMT

Nice article, and Willem’s comments and links are excellent.

This is mostly just a test. Elsewhere, I’m getting “your comment is being held for moderation”. Have I fallen from grace generally, or is it something peculiar to the article on which I tried to comment?

Willem Post's picture
Willem Post on Jun 5, 2017 2:27 pm GMT


Paris COP-21 was a fest of world saving dreams. Almost all, 99+, of those folks have no idea what is involved to have just a 2 C increase by 2100.

Here is some info not much mentioned by the media.

Obama, without permission from the US Congress, committed $3 billion to a Green Climate Fund to literally buy the votes of poor countries, so they would commit to COP-21. Some of these countries are among the most corrupt in the world.

That money likely will disappear into Swiss bank accounts, instead of being used for COP-21 goals, as there is NO monitoring mechanism in place.

Obama paid $1 billion to the Fund just before Trump was sworn in.

Because the US is leaving COP-21, the other $2 billion STAYS IN THE US. See URL for full transcript of COP-21 withdrawal announcement.

As of 17 May 2017, a total of $10.3 billion had been pledged to the Fund.

EU member states pledged $4.7 billion (UK $1.2 b; France $1.0 b; Germany $1.0 b; Others $1.5 b),

US $3.0 billion, and

Rest of World $2.6 billion (Japan $1.5 b; China $0; India $0; Others $1.1 b).

China and India appear to be getting a free ride for now.

The EU is hugging China to see if it can squeeze some money out of it now that the US is no longer the cash cow. See table in URL.

The Fund has a goal of raising $100 billion EACH YEAR by 2020.

The US, about 20% of gross world product, likely would be hit up for $20 billion EACH YEAR.

No thank you, said Trump. He was not about to let the UN do boondoggle projects with US taxpayer money.

Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on Jun 5, 2017 5:54 pm GMT

“…Europe is deeply committed to addressing climate change.”

No, ‘Europe’ is deeply committed to poses wrt climate change, while building more coal plants and burning wood chips. There are no traditional coal plants under construction in the USA.

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