Development and progress lead to constant changes. Sometimes these changes are imperceptive and other times they dominate our perception – sometimes the changes don’t even seem like a progress, for example the climate politics of the new American government. Against the background of the Climate Conference COP23, which will take place in Bonn in November, the EnergyAgency.NRW had a talk with Prof. Dr. Hermann Ott and Prof Dr. Manfred Fischedick of the Wuppertal Institute for climate, environment and energy.
What does Trumps withdrawal mean precisely for the Paris Agreement?
Hermann Ott: We have to wait what will really happen, because so far it is only an announced withdrawal: the USA can only cancel their participation three years after the entry into force of the Paris Agreement and additionally there is a one year period, so the cancellation would only be effective on the 4th of November 2020. The chief negotiators of Paris – among them the US - have set high obstacles for a drop out. Until then the USA are a fully-fledged member of the Paris Agreement. And, by the way, also in the United Nations framework convention on climate change from 1992, which is not supposed to be cancelled. Secondly there is to highlight – as the G20-Summit has shown – that the rest of the world will stick to climate protection. This was an extremely important signal from the G20 - summit in Hamburg, because the US was isolated in its positioning with regards to climate protection. This stand-alone was also recorded in the final document, a novelty in the history of those summits. The Paris Agreement was affirmed and even termed as ‘non-negotiable’. Now it is important to walk the talk. The best way: the EU, China and other important states improve their promises for climate protection to compensate the drop-out of the USA. In this case it is even possible that the withdrawal of the USA will accelerate the global climate protection, also because many protagonists, also for example States in the US, have emphasized that they want to hold on to climate protection actively.
What would a withdrawal mean for the economy of the USA?
Manfred Fischedick: A strong return to fossil energies in the USA would bear the risk that the American economy will be left behind with regards to important key technologies like renewable energies, storage technologies, intelligent networks etc. There is not much to win with old technologies apart from remaining fatally dependent. However, climate protection in the USA is not only enforced by the central government – the states and cities play an important role. As an immediate reaction to Trumps announcement of withdrawal nine states, 125 cities, 900 companies and 183 universities signed the appeal: “We are still in”, in which they commit themselves to stick to the fulfillment of the Paris Agreement. Additionally one mustn’t forget that the rules of the market are relentless and global and they don’t care about a US-president. Because the prizes are falling, renewable energies will gain further competitive advantages while on the other side coal will lose out. In many regions of the US the power generation from wind and sun is already cheaper than power generated from coal. Considering economic reasons, the refusal from the US Government doesn’t necessarily mean that the American emissions will increase. Additionally there are also other reasons why renewable energies in connection to power efficiency are a medium of choice. Why should states like for example California turn back the wheel if they could improve the air quality in their cities by using renewable energies?
Has the announced withdrawal got precise consequences for German politics? Will the German Government for example increase their financial climate support to compensate the drop out of America?
Manfred Fischedick: The German Government has shown on the G20-Summit that they are willing to defend the Paris Agreement. That is good as it is. Now it will be important to support this position with their own politics. Who demands climate protection measures from partner countries has to do the homework also in their own country to remain credible and stick to climate protection targets – there is an urgent backlog demand.
Hermann Ott: The next climate conference will take place in Bonn in November. Germany can set signs if they are trying to find ways to compensate the missing climate funds from the USA (two billion US Dollars). Apart from that there are a lot of other things that have to be done in Bonn. Firstly a process has to be put in place to improve the recent voluntary climate protection measures (so-called Nationally Determines Contributions) – at this point they are not sufficient to reach the goal negotiated in Paris that the global temperatures must not climb over two degrees Celsius. Secondly, it is important to develop a “mechanism of transparency” which evaluates the efforts of a country. With regards to both topics the German Government could be really helpful.
Are there sanctions for the USA if they withdraw from the Paris Agreement?
Hermann Ott: No, there are no sanctions, because sanctions are not part of the Agreement so far. However, the other states could take measures if the US would really obstruct any improvement. The country could be excluded from leading positions within the climate regime. If this reaches extreme proportions, other countries could negotiate agreements besides of Paris to accelerate climate protection. This is not forbidden by the Paris Agreement and can be used to bring the pioneers of climate protection together.
Manfred Fischedick: This agreement doesn’t have to be necessarily developed by national governments, but can also be a complementary alliance from regions, cities and companies. Such a cooperation could lead to significant innovative drives and would be connected with economic advantages. It could additionally be supported by political trade measures for example a CO2-tax on goods imports from the USA. Such arrangements, which are also known under the term of “border tax adjustment” are not so easy to enforce within the worldwide trade system, but in case of a complete blockade they would be justified.
Could the USA cancel their withdrawal from the Paris Agreement?
Hermann Ott: Yes, like mentioned earlier the withdrawal has only been announced so far and can be taken back at any time. After a talk between the French president Macron and the American president there were hints that this might happen. But in the case of Donald Trump, what he thinks always seems to be dependent on who talked to him last. We will stay positive and say: It might be possible that Trump involuntarily becomes a tool to boost climate protection, but only if other states remain strong and united. And if there are increased dynamics on a sub-national level, especially in the USA. There are signs of hope.
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