clock menu more-arrow no yes

Trump wants a better deal than Paris on climate. What’s better than “nonbinding”?

“Believe me, we have massive legal liability if we stay in,” Trump said. Don’t believe him.

Getty Creative Images

President Trump made a lot of dubious complaints about the Paris climate agreement in his announcement Thursday to withdraw from it. But most perplexing of all was this:

“As of today,” Trump said in the White House Rose Garden, with a jazz band sitting idly by, “the United States will cease all implementation of the nonbinding Paris accord and the draconian financial and economic burdens the agreement imposes on our country.”

Later, he added, “Believe me, we have massive legal liability if we stay in.”

These sentences are baffling. Did you catch the word “nonbinding,” followed by “draconian”? Paris was designed to entice voluntary action and provide a framework for accelerating those actions. Trump just voluntarily left something that would have cost nothing (besides a broken campaign promise), nor subjected the US to any legal action, to stay in.

Trump says he wants to renegotiate a better deal for the United States, and then would consider reentering the agreement. But what’s a better deal than “nonbinding”?

As Vox’s Dave Roberts has written, “[The Paris agreement] imposes absolutely no practical or legal constraint on [Trump’s] actions — not on trade policy, not on domestic energy policy, nothing. That means all talk of Paris being a ‘bad deal’ for the US, or hurting US trade, or affecting the US coal industry in any way, is nonsense.”

By making a decision that opinion polls find is deeply unpopular, and likely undercuts the United States as a leader of the modern world order, Trump has brought upon himself an international backlash.

World leaders — at least in the immediate aftermath of Trump’s announcement — say they’re unwilling to renegotiate.

“We deem the momentum generated in Paris in December 2015 irreversible and we firmly believe that the Paris Agreement cannot be renegotiated, since it is a vital instrument for our planet, societies and economies," the governments of France, Germany, and Italy said in a joint statement.

It’s important to remember that the Paris agreement, as it currently stands, won’t stop global temperatures from rising. The point of Paris was to create incentives for countries to voluntarily grow their efforts to avert a warmer future. Now the 194 remaining countries in the agreement are going to have to figure out a way forward without the US.