U.S. President Donald Trump angered much of the world when on Thursday, standing in the Rose Garden of the White House, he announced that America will withdraw from the Paris climate accord.
The deal, signed by President Barack Obama in September 2016, is an agreement among more than 190 countries to limit planet-warming emissions of greenhouse gases. The speech came after business executives from the likes of Tesla, Apple, Google and Berkshire Hathaway made a last-ditch effort with phone calls, social media and letters to convince Trump to stay in the accord.
The reaction to Trump’s speech was immediate and intense from many in the business community, as well as from world leaders, environmentalists, and cities and states, some of which vowed to uphold their own commitments to the Paris accord, regardless of the president’s decision.
A group of U.S. cities, states and companies said they will submit a plan to the United Nations to outline how the U.S. will still meet its commitments without the support of the federal government. Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is coordinating that effort. Bloomberg also pledged to pull together $15 million to cover the U.S. share of the operating budget for the United Nations' Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
Update: On Monday, June 5, more than 1,200 stakeholders, representing a broad cross section of the American economy, formalized their intent to continue pursuing climate action in a joint declaration.
Not everyone saw the news as a sign of the impending apocalypse. Some analysts predict that a withdrawal would have little effect on world energy markets, which are already decarbonizing due to economics and global momentum. Others saw Trump’s move as a way to rally and unite an opposition movement that would continue to move toward the Paris targets.
Christiana Figueres, the former head of the UNFCCC, tweeted:
Thank you Trump. You have provoked an unparalleled wave of support for Paris and determined resolve on climate action. Deeply grateful.— Christiana Figueres (@CFigueres) June 2, 2017
Here are some reactions from some high-profile industry stakeholders and observers that emerged over the last day.
The business community
A handful of CEOs of major companies took to Twitter to express their dismay on Thursday afternoon.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who has been serving on two of the president’s advisory councils to provide him with insight into domestic manufacturing and climate change, said:
Am departing presidential councils. Climate change is real. Leaving Paris is not good for America or the world.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) June 1, 2017
The Walt Disney Company’s CEO and Chairman, Bob Iger, followed suit and tweeted:
As a matter of principle, I've resigned from the President's Council over the #ParisAgreement withdrawal.— Robert Iger (@RobertIger) June 1, 2017
Goldman Sachs' CEO, Lloyd Blankfein, published what appears to be the only tweet on his feed since he joined Twitter in June 2011:
Today's decision is a setback for the environment and for the U.S.'s leadership position in the world. #ParisAgreement— Lloyd Blankfein (@lloydblankfein) June 1, 2017
Apple CEO Tim Cook said:
Decision to withdraw from the #ParisAgreeement was wrong for our planet. Apple is committed to fight climate change and we will never waver.— Tim Cook (@tim_cook) June 2, 2017
GE CEO Jeff Immelt said:
Disappointed with today’s decision on the Paris Agreement. Climate change is real. Industry must now lead and not depend on government.— Jeff Immelt (@JeffImmelt) June 1, 2017
Oil company Shell expressed its support of staying in the Paris accord. However, over the past few years, coal, gas and oil companies have contributed a collective $10 million to the 22 Republican senators who wrote a letter to Trump in recent weeks asking him to abandon the accord, according to the Guardian.
Clean energy leaders, not surprisingly, issued statements calling for the U.S. to remain in the Paris accord. The CEO of solar company SunPower, Tom Werner, wrote in remarks on SunPower’s website:
“By removing the U.S. from the agreement, President Trump has effectively disrupted this market [clean energy markets], which will force many to question the possibility of future economic growth across our sector. It’s just as much an economic issue, affecting all providers, as it is an environmental one.”
States and mayors
Trump’s move is widely seen as part of a growing shift from the federal government to states and cities when it comes to leadership on climate change action in the era after Obama.
On Thursday, three U.S. governors said they’ve signed onto a group calling itself the U.S. Climate Alliance, which will organize states to continue to meet the Paris Agreement targets. Those governors include California’s Jerry Brown, Washington’s Jay Inslee and New York’s Andrew Cuomo.
Governor Brown said in a statement: “If the president is going to be AWOL in this profoundly important human endeavor, then California and other states will step up.”
Governor Inslee said: “I am proud to stand with other governors as we make sure that the inaction in D.C. is met by an equal force of action from the states.
The Under2 Coalition, a group formed in 2015, already represents a wide range of states, countries and cities from around the world that are committed to the greenhouse reduction targets.
New York Mayor de Blasio released a statement saying: “This decision is an immoral assault on the public health, safety and security of everyone on this planet. [...] On behalf of the people of New York City, and alongside mayors across the country, I am committing to honor the goals of the Paris Agreement with an Executive Order in the coming days, so our city can remain a home for generations to come.”
Philadelphia Mayor Bill Peduto, whose city Trump cited in his speech on Thursday, rejected Trump’s use of an example involving Pittsburgh to justify inaction on climate change. In an interview with CNN, the mayor said:
“Pittsburgh in the past 30 years has come back from a depression. We had unemployment at nearly 19 percent. We know what it’s like to have a very, very bad economy. But, at the same time, we didn’t invest in our past; we invested in our future. We are the example of what the Paris Agreement could mean for jobs and the economy in the United States. For him to use Pittsburgh as the example -- I can only say that it was a far stretch at best.”
On Friday morning Peduto signed an executive order reinforcing the city’s commitment to meeting climate change goals. Since Trump announced his intent to withdraw, at least 83 U.S. cities, which represent more than 40 million Americans, have announced they’re adopting the historic Paris targets themselves.
In a separate agreement, the U.S. Conference of Mayors announced this week that 29 cities will move to 100 percent clean energy in response to Trump’s decision. A handful of cities around the world lit up their capitols and official buildings with the color green to show their support for the Paris deal, including Paris, Mexico City, Boston, Washington, D.C., and Chicago.
Eighty university presidents also signed onto the pledge to meet the Paris commitments.
The heads of countries around the world reacted swiftly to Trump’s speech and almost unanimously condemned the move. Even Vladimir Putin's spokesperson said that Russia attaches great importance to the accord, and a U.S. withdrawal could complicate the agreement’s implementation.
France, Germany and Italy said that the Paris accord cannot be renegotiated. Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel reportedly called Trump to express her disappointment with the decision after his speech. Her spokesperson Steffen Seibert said in a tweet: “Chancellor Merkel disappointed w/ Pres. Trump's decision. Now more than ever we will work for global climate policies that save our planet.”
France’s new President Emmanuel Macron said in a statement that Trump had “committed an error for the interests of his country, his people and a mistake for the future of our planet.”
Macron delivered a speech on Thursday, reiterating a call for all scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, and even responsible citizens who were disappointed by the U.S. decision “to come and work here with us.” The French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs re-edited a White House video on the Paris decision, showing why it’s beneficial to all parties.
Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau released a statement that said: “Canada is unwavering in our commitment to fight climate change and support clean economic growth. […] Canada will continue to work with the U.S. at the state level, and with other U.S. stakeholders, to address climate change and promote clean growth.”
For some countries that have been building up their own clean energy economies, like China, the move by the U.S. federal government could represent an economic and leadership opportunity. China and the European Union released a joint statement in response to Trump’s announcement on Friday that said the countries will “significantly intensify their political, technical, economic, and scientific cooperation on climate change and clean energy."
Former President Obama released his own statement on Trump’s speech, citing an “absence of American leadership.”
The brighter side
Tim McMahan, a partner with law firm Stoel Rives, and chair of its Climate Change Practice Initiative, thinks that a withdrawal from the Paris accord could be a rallying cry for more support for clean energy. He said Trump’s speech “may well incentivize investments in clean technologies and stimulate significant new economic ties between the states and other nations.”
Michael Liebreich, founder of Bloomberg New Energy Finance, predicted the fallout won't be so bad:
1. I'm not sure @RealDonaldTrump pulling the US out of the Paris Agreement is such a bad thing. We may be surprised at how things play out.— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) June 2, 2017
He continued in a series of tweets: “This will spur a tidal wave of climate action by U.S. states, cities, businesses & citizens. I bet the U.S. will meet its Paris 2030 pledge. […] A number of clean energy technologies are beyond the tipping point & will keep eating fossil market share in any case.”
Christiana Figueres, former head of the UNFCCC, said that the U.S. decision is sad, but not because it will derail efforts to lower carbon emissions. “It’s actually sad for the seriousness and the credibility of political leadership currently in the United States,” she said on a call with reporters.
Donald Trump’s decision will have “the unintended consequence” of galvanizing a groundswell of support for the Paris climate agreement both inside and outside the United States, Figueres said. “Because the nature of the attacks on the Paris Agreement have been so grave, I think that we’re all now jolted out of our sense of comfort of having reached the Paris Agreement, and now we have already begun to see nations stand up and redouble their effort.”