Although not unexpected, the U.S. President Donald Trump withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement has sent shockwaves around the world. Some leaders even went so far as calling it the end of America's global leadership.
The U.S. contributes around 15 percent of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and leaving a 195-nation accord that aims to bring that down is bound to do more than just raise a few eyebrows. And it has done just that. But the good news is that, after all the chaos the U.S. withdrawal created, climate change is now back at the top of the agenda. Furthermore, many countries and corporations have reacted by emphasizing that they will honor their commitments to combat climate change.
From now on, I would expect that climate change actions would gain prominence from leaders, especially those from the EU and China, who expressed strong opposition to Trump's position. Large corporations have also shown their solidarity by signing a letter against Trump's decision.
Leaving the Paris accord was among Trump's election campaign pledges. Now, he has fulfilled one of his promises. He claimed that taking this step will boost the American coal mining industry and employment in the U.S.
He demanded fairer treatment for America, as the accord did not hold some polluting countries responsible commensurate with their contribution to global pollution. He also claimed his only consideration in abandoning the accord was putting the American people's interest first. This decision might have made Trump supporters happy, but for others, it is a potentially disastrous step.
Despite Trump's action, some U.S. cities, states and companies have promised that they will meet the requirements of the Paris agreement. It was surprising to see some companies that were using non-renewable resources or damaging the environment in past years, now strongly opposed to Trump's decision. This is likely due to the fact that staying out of the Paris accord network would probably leave them out of the rapidly growing green energy development market and the related job opportunities that come with it.
China's leading role in action on climate change and the possibility of China's domination in the supply of renewable energy could be discomforting to some U.S. companies. Luckily, the potential of the renewable energy market is compounding companies' interest with the safety of our planet. Otherwise, expecting companies to be concerned for the sake of saving the planet would be naively unrealistic optimism.
Following recent developments in the U.S., here are some possible outcomes. American companies may face trade barriers with other countries if they implement carbon-related tariffs. The number of carbon-intensive industries may increase along with the output of carbon emissions. One of the most significant consequences to the non-binding Paris accord would be the demotivation of other countries to fulfill their commitments. If the U.S. is not doing it, then why should we cut our profits and let others compete on an uneven playing field, will be the common argument.
At this point, if we do not see promised actions to reduce GHG taken by states and corporate giants, global warming's negative effects will be inevitable. And, if countries fail to realize their commitments to the accord, this could jeopardize the future of the agreement. It will be impossible to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, which may bring the climate and humanity past an irreversible point.
In addition, our personal conscience and responsibilities are crucial. Climate change should not be viewed, as some news stories portray, as something that only affects certain cities or people that we do not have any connection with. The notion that we can simply shift the whole responsibility for tackling climate change to companies or politicians is absurd.
Although they do have the most power and responsibility to tackle it, we can try to reduce our individual carbon footprint and our contribution to GHG emissions in our personal lives. As individuals, we should also bear in mind that our demands and preferences have the power to shape governments, companies, and our collective future.
As the world's second-largest emitter and contributor to GHG, as well as being a potential innovator in green technologies in the global market, America's abandonment of the Paris accord is worrying. But it is also encouraging and promising to see world leaders, large corporation, and civil society react to Trump's decision. We have to believe in the motivation behind climate change action and remind everyone that it is time to take action and shoulder the responsibilities we have to save our planet.
* Digital producer at TRT World currently undertaking a masters degree in climate change at Istanbul University