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How The U.S. Withdrawing From The Paris Climate Agreement Affects Other Countries


President Trump has long threatened it. Yesterday his administration formally announced it. And in a year, just after the presidential election, the U.S. will pull out of the international climate agreement signed in Paris back in 2016.


To get a sense of what this timeline means for the U.S. and world climate policy, we have invited Todd Stern into the studio. He is a senior fellow at The Brookings Institution and was a special envoy for climate change under President Obama. Welcome.

TODD STERN: Thank you very much. Glad to be here.

CHANG: So what do you think will be the biggest impact coming out of yesterday's news that the U.S. is definitely going to be pulling out of the Paris climate deal?

STERN: Well, look. It's not going to be surprise to other nations around the world. They were certainly hoping that, despite what the president had said back in 2017, that the U.S. would decide not to go out or that the president would decide not to go out. But it will be very unwelcome news. It will be damaging because when the United States, as the big player that it is in the world with the capacity to influence other countries, to convene other countries, to lead other countries - when the U.S. is out, a big, important part of the energy in the system, the kind of juice in the system, just disappears.

CHANG: I want to talk about mechanics. What happens to the Paris Agreement without U.S. involvement?

STERN: Well, the Paris Agreement will still be there, and what is crucial now is - we're talking about moving towards something like net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

CHANG: Right.

STERN: Well, that's a huge challenge. And when the United States is not there, when the United States is not part of those every five year periods of countries putting in new targets, it's - everything is just going to work less well. It's going to be less ambitious.

CHANG: Now, there are American companies that are still doing business in countries that have decided to be bound by the Paris Agreement, so how does the U.S. pulling out of the agreement affect those American companies?

STERN: Well, you know, I think that American companies that are global will continue to do global business, and they will continue to do global business in countries that are part of the agreement. But it does not help to be from a country that will be looked at as a pariah country with respect to climate change given what the Trump administration is doing.

CHANG: You use the word pariah. Europe has long threatened to tax products from countries that have less stringent climate rules. The U.S. will be one of those countries now, so might we see U.S. exports in Europe getting taxed now, penalized by this decision?

STERN: Well, yeah. Look. I think that that is a possibility, and I think countries will certainly look at that. I think it's also - as a matter of kind of realpolitik, if you will, countries are going to look at a decision like that and try to calibrate what that's going to mean with respect to their overall relationship with the United States beyond climate change because however difficult, however undiplomatic, if you will, the United States may appear to be and may in fact be with regard to - in relation to other countries, they still are going to be looking to see how much grief do we want to take on our own head for putting a border tariff adjustment, for example - a tax, in effect - on U.S. products.

CHANG: Now, President Trump has promised for a long time - since the beginning of his term - that he intended to pull out of the Paris agreement, but the U.S. has continue to send delegations to international climate talks. Do you expect that will continue now, and to what end? I mean, how influential could they be at this point?

STERN: I think they won't be influential at all. The president could continue to send a delegation to climate talks for reasons other than Paris, but A, there wouldn't be - they wouldn't have much clout because the United States would be very little respected in this world, and more importantly, they could not participate at all in the ongoing elements of the Paris regime. And let's face it. The Paris regime is where it's at. This is the focus of climate change activity in the international sphere going forward.

CHANG: Todd Stern is a fellow at The Brookings Institution.

Thanks very much for joining us.

STERN: Thanks so much. I appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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