June 1 marked a year since President Trump announced that he would pull the United States out of the Paris climate accord. The agreement obligated the 195 nations that had signed on to take ambitious steps to combat climate change and mitigate its impacts. Trump had long labeled the agreement flawed, saying that he was “elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris,” and calling for a new and better deal. Robert Stavins, A.J. Meyer Professor of Energy and Economic Development, is director of the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements. We sought his perspective on global climate policy one year after the president’s announcement.


Q: What have been the primary ramifications from President Trump’s decision last June?  Have all federal efforts designed to combat climate change come to a halt?

President Trump’s announcement in June of 2017 was that he was withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, the international agreement in which 190-plus countries accounting for 97% of global greenhouse gas emissions had pledged to reduce their emissions according to specific timetables. However, according the provisions of the Paris Agreement, the soonest that the United States or any party to the agreement can initiate its withdrawal is three years after the agreement came into force on November 4, 2016, and it requires one additional year to make that effective. Hence, President Trump was actually announcing his intention to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement on November 4, 2020 (one day after the next presidential election). Furthermore, the president’s decision regarding the Paris Agreement had no effect whatsoever on domestic climate policy, which the president had already moved to roll back.

 

Q: Have other countries continued to fulfill their obligations under the terms of the agreement? 

Yes, the European Union and the OECD countries have made it clear they will move forward with their stated contributions, as have the major emerging economies of China, India, Brazil, Korea, South Africa, and Mexico.

 

Q: What other substantive efforts are taking place in the United States—at the state and local level—to partially mitigate the impacts from the U.S. pull out? 

There are very aggressive climate policies in place in California, as well as meaningful initiatives in the Northeast and Middle Atlantic States (the “Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative”), and in the upper Midwest.  In California, there are a suite of aggressive policies seeking to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions, including: a cap-and-trade system; energy efficiency standards for vehicles, buildings, and appliances; a renewable portfolio standard (increases from 20 percent to 33 percent); and in the transportation sector, a low-carbon fuel standard. The cap-and-trade system covers 85 percent of the economy, with a decreasing cap through 2030.

 

Q: In light of the president’s decision last year, are there still reasons to be hopeful that the challenges posed by global climate change can be addressed before it’s too late?

The impact of the president’s announcement is certainly bad news for progress on climate change, but it will not deter other countries of the world and some parts of the United States from the actions to which they seem to be committed. In light of the Trump administration’s actions and announcements, most important are sub-national climate change policies at the state level. Also, efforts to link together climate policies across international jurisdictions under the authority of the Paris Agreement are important.

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Robert Stavins

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