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U.S. Begins To Formally Withdraw From Paris Climate Agreement


The Trump administration has notified the United Nations that the U.S. is officially withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement. That means one year from now, the United States will become the only nation to pull out of the global pact to combat climate change. Joining us now - Andrew Light. He's a former climate official in the State Department who helped develop the Paris Agreement. Thanks for coming on the program.

ANDREW LIGHT: Thank you, David.

GREENE: This was, we should say, not unexpected. The president was planning to do this. But what went through your mind when you heard the news yesterday?

LIGHT: Well, it was expected, certainly. And I think that, you know, what we see here is, I think, typical unfortunately of this administration, which is that they're abandoning the fight. We saw this in Syria. We're seeing it now on climate change. This is something that - you know, there is no doubt about the reality of climate change in the rest of the world.

The United States is the only place where there's still something, and we have a leader who doesn't even acknowledge that climate change is real. And other countries care about this. When we turn our back on them, then they are going to turn their back on us, and other countries are going to fill the gap for assistance in this area.

GREENE: I just - I want to focus on the message from the administration yesterday. I mean, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, you know, was not talking about whether or not climate change exists; he was praising the United States for lowering its greenhouse gas emissions over the last decade while also growing the U.S. economy. And I mean, opponents of the Paris Agreement have made this a central argument - that it could hurt the U.S. economy. Is that a risk for the United States if they stayed in this agreement?

LIGHT: No, it's not. In fact, it's quite the opposite. There was a very interesting study that was done a couple of years ago by the International Finance Corporation, which is part of the World Bank Group. They looked at the top 21 commitments under the Paris Agreement for developing countries, so just the 21 largest developing countries. Their conclusion was that this created a $23 trillion investment opportunity between now and 2030.

So when the United States turns its back on the Paris Agreement and on international cooperation, what we're doing is we're hurting American businesses, and we are not growing the job sectors that other countries are going to step in and take up.

GREENE: I remember a study from the conservative Heritage Foundation, you know, when the accord was first developed. I mean, they were projecting aggregate GDP losses of $2.5 trillion in the United States over the next 15 years, a loss of income for American families, you know, who have to buy energy in different ways. I mean, what is wrong with those numbers and those projections?

LIGHT: Well, that particular study was riddled with flaws. It had a pretty crazy assumption that we were going - the only way we could meet our commitments under the Paris Agreement would be to basically eviscerate the U.S. industrial sector. And that's just not - that couldn't be further from the truth. The other thing, though, that - what's not taken into account by studies like that is the economic harm that will happen, that we know will happen, if climate change is left unchecked.

So about a year ago, the United States released - this White House actually released the fourth U.S. National Climate Assessment. It came to the conclusion that, left unchecked, you were going to see economic impacts to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars per year by the end of the century if we do not do something on climate change. And that needs to be taken into account as well when we're looking at the overall economic impact.

GREENE: This administration has said there are other ways to fight climate change, even outside of the Paris Agreement. I mean, could states, could the private sector in the United States, step in and do better in this fight?

LIGHT: Well, they are stepping in, and I think that's one of the great things that we've sort of seen. We've got 25 governors now, hundreds of mayors, thousands of business leaders, who've stepped forward and said that they want to try to fulfill the U.S. obligations under the Paris Agreement. But at the end of the day, it's not going to be enough. We absolutely need a reengagement by the U.S. federal government working with the states and cities and businesses to try to achieve our goals under the Paris Agreement.

GREENE: Andrew Light is a former climate official in the State Department. He helped develop the Paris Agreement. Thanks so much for your time this morning.

LIGHT: Thank you, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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