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What will US withdrawal from the Paris climate deal mean?

5 June 2017
Our experts from the Sydney Environment Institute respond

Just days before World Environment Day, US President Trump announced his intention to withdraw from the landmark Paris climate agreement. Experts from the University's Sydney Environmental Institute respond to the news.

US President Donald Trump has announced his intention to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement, the landmark agreement between 195 countries, adopted in December 2015.

Global responses to climate change will continue

"The rest of the world, including the European Union, China and India, will pick up the slack [of the United States] at the global level," said Professor David Schlosberg, Co-Director of the Sydney Environment Institute.

The Professor of Environmental Politics, also from the Unviersity's Department of Government and International Relations, added, "There will be an effort on the part of many US states and localities to help the US meet its stated voluntary goal."

"The global response to climate change has shifted in the last few years. The ethics, politics and economics have finally lined up to enable the end of fossil fuels."

Trump is not going to stop the transition – but he might damage the US reputation, public health, and economic development along the way.
Professor David Schlosberg, Co-Director of the Sydney Environment Institute

"This decision, and the domestic regulations and policies being changed, will do real harm to the US – not just its international standing, but also basic issues of public health due to burning carbon, and of the wealth of employment and economic opportunities in renewables," said Professor Schlosberg.

Withdrawing from the Paris agreement a long legal process

Professor Tim Stephens from the University of Sydney Law School said the legal process is likely to be lengthy.

"US withdrawal from the agreement is not straightforward and depending on the form it takes could be a legally protracted and difficult process; one that could be impossible to achieve within a first term of the Trump Administration," said Professor Stephens, who has widely published research on international environmental law. 

Multilateral negotiations as part of the Paris agreement will continue just as they did after the US withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol.
Professor Rosemary Lyster, University of Sydney Law School and Sydney Environment Institute

Professor Rosemary Lyster from the Australian Centre for Climate and Environmental Law at the Sydney Law School highlights that the Trump's withdrawal from the Paris agreement is similar to President Bush's withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol.

"Under the Paris agreement, parties can only withdraw three years after the agreement comes into effect, that is, 4 November 2016, and then it takes another year after the notification to withdraw is received," said Professor Lyster, Co-Convenor of the Sydney Environment Institute's Sydney Network on Climate Change and Society.

"Legally speaking withdrawal will be an election issue in the next American Presidential elections. But politically speaking, Trump's withdrawal signals to the international community that his Administration will begin to wind back and repeal regulatory actions taken to address climate change by the Federal government, especially the Environment Protection Agency, under the Obama administration."

Businesses must prepare for climate change

"Although not surprising given his previous statements, President Trump’s announcement that he intends to withdraw the US from the Paris climate agreement represents a major setback in humanity's attempt to avoid catastrophic climate change," said Professor Christopher Wright from the Business School.

Professor Wright is the convenor of the Balanced Enterprise Research Network at the Sydney Environment Institute, with research expertise in corporate responses to climate change.

He warns, "Over the next decade, businesses will need to plan for an increasingly uncertain and volatile world of growing market, regulatory and physical risk."

Paris agreement not a panacea

"Let's be clear - the Paris climate accord is not a panacea for solving anthropogenic climate change," cautions Professor Phil McManus, a Key Researcher at the University's Sydney Environment Institute.

"It falls far short of what atmospheric scientists deem necessary to prevent dangerous climate change. It was, however, the best political arrangement possible at the international level," said Professor McManus from the University's School of Geosciences.

"195 members signed the agreement and 148 of them have ratified it. Donald Trump claims he was elected to “represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris”. The current Mayor of Pittsburgh is a supporter of international work on climate change, including at the city level."

What is the Sydney Environment Institute?

Sydney Environment Institute is a cross-disciplinary research hub at the University of Sydney, which provides a platform to inform public discourse and decision-making in relation to the impact of climate change on society and the environment.

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