Daphne Wysham, director of the climate and energy program at the Center for Sustainable Economy, joins Sharmini Peries to talk about the ramifications of the US pulling out of the Paris accord
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Sharmini Peries: It’s the Real News Network, I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. In breaking news, President Trump announced that the US will pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement, seen as a move to rally his base at home while deepening his rift with Europe. Donald Trump: I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris, and exiting the Agreement protects the United States from future intrusions on the United States sovereignty and massive future legal liability. Believe me. We have massive legal liability if we stay in. As President, I have one obligation, and that obligation is to the American people. The Paris Accord would undermine our economy, hamstring our workers, weaken our sovereignty, impose unacceptable legal risk and put us at a permanent disadvantage to the other countries of the world. It is time to exit the Paris Accord. Sharmini Peries: Now joining us from Portland, Oregon, is Daphne Wysham. Daphne is an Associate Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and Director of Climate and Energy Program at the Center for Sustainable Economy. Daphne, thank you so much for joining us. Daphne Wysham: Thank you for having me, Sharmini. Sharmini Peries: All right, Daphne. I think there’s a lot of people out there that might be very angry. Many people across the world and in social movements and at negotiating tables, for it to have this deal. We can argue how effective it is or how binding or nonbinding it is, but entire movements have dedicated their efforts to at least getting this Accord, which is a global agreement. Do you feel disappointed? Daphne Wysham: It does not undo all of our work. Our work will continue. Our work is proceeding. We are winning all kinds of victories at the state and local level, and we will continue to win. What we have heard from Donald Trump today is the voice of a man without any sense of reason or ethics or morality, and frankly, he says his goal is to represent the will of the American people. The majority of Americans want action on climate change in both parties. Clean energy such as wind and solar is cheaper now than natural gas, so just from an economic point of view, moving down the path towards renewable energy makes economic sense. We know that Donald Trump is invested in a lot of these oil and gas projects, whether it’s the Dakota Access Pipeline or potentially even the Rosneft development that he’s allegedly got a 19% stake in, if it ever goes online, in Russia. He’s putting his own interests first and the interests of his fellow billionaires, and as a result, we are squandering what little trust and reputation and international standing we have with the international community. The good news is that the rest of the world is not insane, and no other party other than the Republican Party in the United States denies climate change. Whether it’s the EU joining up with China and pushing forward with plans to address the needs of the Green Development Bank that will invest in renewable energy and resilience for developing countries, or countries around the world that are, essentially, moving forward with their plans to pursue the lowest-cost option, which is renewable energy, the cleanest option. I don’t see this as much of a failure because, frankly, even if Trump had stayed in the Paris Accords, who would be our top negotiator at the climate negotiations? The former head of ExxonMobil, Rex Tillerson. Okay? Calling this a major blow. Yes, it’s a major blow to our reputation, to our standing, to our good word, but frankly, if we can continue to advance at the state and local level, as we are doing right here in Oregon where I live and up and down the West Coast with states pledging to not only meet but exceed the Paris targets, we’ll be doing just fine. Sharmini Peries: All right. To a point you just made, Daphne, Trump said he was elected to represent Pittsburgh, not Paris, and yet according to, and you already made this point, according to the Yale Center for Climate Change communications, the Paris Agreement is supported by majority of Americans in the United States, but even more importantly, by majority of Trump’s supporters wanted him to stay in the deal. I know this doesn’t undo your lifetime work or the lifetime work of the movements that have been so active, so aggressive, so impactful worldwide, but why then if so many people supported, why did he go through and make this decision anyway? Daphne Wysham: He made the decision to try to save face with the pledges that he has put forward when he was running for President. Look. The man clearly doesn’t understand what it takes to be President. He doesn’t understand the science. He has made a lot of crazy statements in running for office, and one of them was that he was going to withdraw from the Paris Accords, so he’s now done that. The fact of the matter is even if he does, which he is withdrawing from the Paris Accords, it will be four years before this withdrawal will be effective. Whether it’s the next President that decides to pursue what Trump has done and continue with being an outlier in the global community and not participating in the climate negotiations, or whether Trump gets reelected, which I think is highly unlikely, we do have time to continue forward one way or another with the commitments that we have. The nuclear option that I think a number of us were very concerned about was that Trump was going to cancel his participation in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Now, that’s a UN treaty that George Bush, Sr., signed the US on to. Had he done so, it would have required a two-thirds majority to get the US back onboard the Climate Convention, so he did not do that. That would have been a more immediate response than what we see with withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accords. We’re at least relieved that that didn’t happen, but frankly, I was there in Marrakech when the announcement was made at the climate negotiations that Trump had won the Presidency, and the global community was united as they are now that they were going to push on regardless of what the US did, that there was no longer an option to sit around and wait for the one country that has over and over again attempted to disrupt meaningful climate action. China will probably be the global leader in the climate negotiations together with the EU. We’ve heard rumors that there are deals already being made with them, as I mentioned earlier, around how to finance the gap in contributions that the US will no longer be providing to the global community to address the climate crisis. All is not lost but I do believe that locally elected officials and state officials really do have a lot of power and they’re showing it out here in the Pacific Northwest. We have a target for 100% renewable electricity by 2035 in Portland. We are going to try to push that even faster. We have an ordinance for no new fossil fuel export infrastructure. I’m in contact with elected officials up and down the West Coast and on the East Coast who are eager to follow Portland’s lead. We should not despair. We need to continue to organize and that’s where the solution always was and where it always will be is at the local level. Sharmini Peries: Right. Daphne, what do you make of the jobs argument that he made that he said that it is a matter of competition that under this agreement, India would be allowed to double their coal production output but US will not, implying that this will eliminate jobs. What is your argument against this? Daphne Wysham: First of all, India is proceeding a pace with massive investment in solar as is China. China has an investment of $180 billion, I believe, in renewable energy over the next couple of years. These countries are not doing this out of the kindness of their hearts. They’re doing this out of sheer recognition of the human toll of coal-fired power on the air and the environment of their citizens as well as the economics that are favorable for increasingly so for solar and wind. Jobs are abundant in this field. There was a study that was recently done in by the C40 cities, which is a group of cities that are committed to acting on the Paris Accords that found that just in the Portland area, something like 46,000 jobs in the low to no-carbon economy are in place now and this economy is expanding by 5% annually. These are middle wage, good-paying jobs, and that’s because Portland has put it out very clearly that this city wants to be a leader in the green economy. Same sort of thing is happening in Vancouver, BC. Their economy is booming thanks to their turning away from fossil fuels and towards strong, ambitious climate targets. A clean energy economy is a job-producing economy, and we will see that as cities increasingly turn away from dirty coal and fossil fuels and towards abundant, beautiful energy. Sharmini Peries: Daphne, he also announced that US will pull out of the Green Climate Fund and this is the fund that acknowledges that the world’s largest polluters, that includes the US, is responsible for the shifts in the climate, and that developing countries should foot the bill by … Sorry, developed countries should foot the bill by providing some funds to make it possible for developing countries to meet their Climate Accord goals. What are the implications, then of pulling out of this fund? Daphne Wysham: Well, it’s morally and ethically bankrupt. The US is responsible for 30% of the CO2 emissions that are now in the Earth’s atmosphere that are melting our polar regions rapidly. Glacier National Park will soon have no more glaciers. We could go on and on about the devastating impacts that this is happening not only at home but, of course, in the developing world. Sea level rise and increase in the intensity of the storms and so on. For us to say you know what? We created a good share of this problem but we are going to put America first and turn our backs on countries that are currently suffering extreme weather conditions like Yemen, like countries in the Middle East that are dealing with crop failure and drought. That is a terrorism magnifier, as the Pentagon has suggested. Climate change will result in terroristic activity multiplying because people feel more desperate. The compassionate response and the smart response, frankly, is to hold out our hands to those countries and say, “We will help you leapfrog over this outdated technology. We will help you develop your resiliency in the face of these crisis.” Instead, by doing what we’re doing under Trump, we are essentially making this world into a much more dangerous place than it was before he got elected. Sharmini Peries: Right. Now, President Obama was quick on his feet. He has already commented on social media his thoughts about the withdrawal from the Accord. One thing that we must be cognizant of is Obama himself could have done a lot more. In fact, one of the reasons that this climate agreement is so delayed is the US negotiations took forever and, in fact, he could have sealed and delivered this and some of his outcomes could have already had some sort of impact on the climate by now had there been a greater speed in terms of moving towards acknowledging and eliminating emissions from our environment. Do you put some of this onus on Obama? Daphne Wysham: Well, look. I think one of the problems that we’ve seen over and over again with the Democratic Party is even when they had a full majority in the House and the Senate and in the White House, they were not willing to be as ambitious in pushing the agenda that we wanted them to as the Republican Party is now doing under Donald Trump. For that, whether that’s Barack Obama’s fault and whether we should lay the blame squarely on his shoulders, or on social movements or on the Democratic Party overall, I don’t know, but he definitely missed a golden opportunity in the first few years of his first term when he could have been pushing all of these ambitious agendas that he, eventually, did push towards the end of his eight years in office. We’ll never know exactly in hindsight. It looks like it could have happened much more speedily but we know what kind of resistance he was facing from the Republicans from the get-go. They have been the party of no for quite some time and they sure did their best to do everything possible to disrupt every single initiative that President Obama tried to put in place. It’s hard to second guess it in hindsight. I wish he had been more aggressive and he wasn’t. Sharmini Peries: Finally, Daphne, Trump said that US is going to pull out of the nonbinding aspects of the agreement but then later said, “This Accord has massive legal implications and it’s going to cost us a fortune.” What did he mean by that? Daphne Wysham: I don’t know. Trying to read Donald Trump’s, decipher his words and his tweets. As we’ve learned, he comes up with words that don’t even exist in the dictionary and I think this was just him making another ill-informed comment. The truth of the matter is that one of the reasons that the Paris Accord was so universally accepted around the world was that there was no legally binding aspect to it. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change is a treaty that does have legal teeth to some degree, but there were no binding targets under the UNFCCC, so Donald Trump can scare the public, as we’ve learned from his words about immigrants and now he’s trying to use similar tactics about all the things that were very scary about the Paris Climate Accords, which are patently false. The scary thing is that enough people are buying this problem and, unfortunately, the world, as I said earlier, will be a much more unsafe place unless we resist this President and push our local and state elected officials to take very strong action as soon as possible. Sharmini Peries: All right, Daphne. As always, I thank you so much for joining us at this very important moment in terms of our climate, so I thank you. Daphne Wysham: Thank you. Sharmini Peries: Thank you for joining us here on the Real News Network.