Donald Trump is turning ‘America first’ into ‘America alone’. The president’s cynical decision last week to withdraw the US from the Paris accord on climate change thrust the country on a path to becoming a pariah rather than the leader of the free world.
Some called his decision courageous. His team said he believes that the world’s climate is changing but that the Paris accord agreed by Barack Obama missed the mark when it came to US jobs and American competitiveness abroad.
Others were quick to see the decision as an assertion of political self-interest at the expense of presidential leadership, not to mention air quality. The Paris accord is far from the conspiracy alleged by the Trump team to constrain US competitiveness and benefit competitors, particularly the Chinese.
Trump’s move may well be tantamount to ceding voluntarily America’s leading role in clean technology. It also means that America is leaving its seat at the global table at a time when the need to tackle climate change is of growing importance.
Trump says he plans to negotiate a better deal but it’s not clear who with. Only two countries declined to sign the Paris accord at the time – Syria and Nicaragua – and the latter objected because it felt the standards were not tough enough.
Trump’s announcement has implications for the US as a beacon for countries and peoples who, since the end of the second world war, have come to depend on its leadership. What they will find today is a White House that prefers to cast the US and Americans as selfish, guarded and inward looking.
By favouring coal mines over the quality of the air we breathe, this decision shuns the realities of our world today.
Domestically, the move reflects a resurgence of influence for Steve Bannon, Trump’s arch-conservative adviser, while bolstering what appears to be a determination to tear up anything that bears Obama’s stamp, in this instance the Clean Power Plan.
The CPP is the Obama administration’s flagship environmental regulatory initiative, which proposed to cut carbon emissions of existing power plants to 30% below 2005 levels by 2030. It was a step that was viewed as crucial to meeting the carbon emissions reduction standards the US set itself under the Paris accord.
At home and abroad, this White House will attempt to do whatever it wants in the name of American nationalism. In the process, it risks turning back the clock irrevocably on US power and competitiveness.