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Paris climate agreement is ‘better off’ without the U.S., say experts

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While the departure of the United States from the Paris Climate agreement would be a significant political blow, experts don’t predict an overtly negative effect on climate change.

In fact, some environmental experts say that the Paris agreement is better off without the U.S., or at least until a co-operative administration is back in the White House.

Stephen Scharper, an associate professor at the School of the Environment at the University of Toronto, says that the United States’ membership in the agreement will have little effect on the states and local municipalities within the country which choose to move forward with sustainable economic development, independent of government support.

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“The fact that the Trump administration wants to pull out of the Paris climate change accords is very devastating, in theory,” explains Scharper. “Many local governments have said that they’re going to try to keep on track with the agreement,” he says.

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While Scharper says the U.S. federal government seems “anti-environment,” other parties — such as individual states and members of the private sector — have realized the effects of climate change and are working to reverse it of their own volition.

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Scharper says that previous administrations’ resistance to installing meaningful climate change policy, including the Bush administration and the early days of the Obama administration, groups in concerned bodies within the U.S. have not historically relied on the federal government to participate.

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“City governments and municipalities have taken it upon themselves to move towards lower carbon emissions,” explains Scharper. “People are working very hard, very fastidiously on these issues. Many leading business executives want to move in this direction. We’re seeing reinvestment from major corporate interest in green technology,” he continues.

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With an equally strong push towards sustainable economies from the international community, Scharper adds that the United States might find itself standing alone if this trend continues.

“The U.S. really risks being an orphan internationally — being an island in a sustainable sea as others move past them,” he concludes.

Other reports suggest that the Paris climate agreement might even be better off without the membership of the United States. Lucas Kemp, a lecturer of environmental policy at Australian National University says in a commentary published in Nature Climate Change, that having the U.S. remain in the agreement would only reveal its weaknesses.

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“Having the U.S. remain under the Paris Agreement would reveal the weaknesses of the agreement, prevent new opportunities from emerging, and gift greater leverage to a recalcitrant administration,” wrote Kemp.

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Furthermore, he says that the international community should be more concerned about the actions of the U.S., rather than whether the government is symbolically participating.

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“If the U.S. remains under the agreement, it will keep a veto in the negotiations. The U.S. could use its voice and veto to water down the rules and details of the Paris Agreement, which are currently being negotiated. Giving the former head of ExxonMobil a seat at the table is a terrible idea,” Kemp continues.

Danny Harvey, a professor of global warming at the University of Toronto, adds that there was always the possibility the United States wouldn’t meet the commitments they agreed to as part of the Paris deal.

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“I think it would be better if they did withdraw, because first of all, they have no intention of meeting their pledge… but if they’re in it, they can be obstructionist in further meetings,” explains Harvey.

He goes on to say that it’s unlikely one country could “buck the trend” of climate change all on its own, and therefore, the Paris accords are “better off without them until the Trump era is over and we get someone who is going to be co-operative back in the White House.”

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The Trump administration has yet to make an official statement about this decision.

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