Can Donald Trump “Cancel” the Paris Agreement?

During his turbulent and controversial candidacy, United States President-elect Donald J. Trump put forward relatively few concrete policy proposals. Vague promises of renegotiating trade deals, funding infrastructure projects, and returning the country to a past state of ill-defined greatness were rarely accompanied by anything substantial enough to call a plan.

There were, however, several concrete initiatives hidden in Mr. Trump’s tangle of hollow reassurances. Notably, the President-elect promised to “cancel” the Paris Agreement within his first hundred days in office. He said so loudly and repeatedly, and participants in the COP 22 have every reason to believe that his intentions are honest. After all, the billionaire businessman has called climate change a hoax perpetuated by the Chinese.

The question on concerned parties’ minds, then, is whether it is possible for a Mr. Trump to pull out of the landmark international Agreement to reduce domestic carbon emissions. If so, how long would it take? Would he need consent of the Senate? Would there be repercussions?

Continue reading “Can Donald Trump “Cancel” the Paris Agreement?”

The Election & the Paris Agreement: Part 2

Following Tuesday’s election, a lot of people back home have asked us,  
What does this mean for climate change, US climate policy, and the Paris Agreement?

One aspect of this question, the impact of the new leadership on domestic actions, was addressed in Part 1 of this post. However, the election has a broader impact as well.

We found that the international community was also following the election closely, and many individuals felt they will be impacted by its outcome at least as much as the average American. As we went about our business observing the conference over the last several days, we took stock of the mood in Marrakech and the best guesses of members of the climate community who crossed out path. Here is a sampling of quotes and impressions on the subject:

What does a Trump presidency mean for the implementation of the Paris Agreement?

“There’s nothing we can do, [but] it’s a step back on climate policy”

– members from the Kazakhstan party delegation on the election. They also mentioned that implications of a Trump presidency on the Paris Agreement are fairly unknown.

Elections are “a process, and the strategy of the [U.S.] government and state will not change”

– observer from a Bangladeshi NGO. He does not support the election result, but does not believe Trump will have the power to change policies in his 4 years.

A representative from the Côte d’Ivoire delegation discussed the turnaround from the administrations of President Obama to President-elect Trump: It was influential that the U.S. was included in the Paris Agreement, but now the international community is waiting to see what Trump’s take on it will be. Trump is considered a fairly unknown force, but the subtext of our conversation was that, as an international power, it would be problematic if the U.S. were to drop out of the agreement. Many countries are waiting to see what the U.S. will do before they make significant moves.

“I think he will not change everything. There is [already] a policy for America”

– 2nd delegate from Côte D’ivoire on how Trump may be unable to change existing trends in U.S. policy.

When America sneezes, Zimbabwe catches pneumonia. If Trump makes bad calls as a President, they’re going to have implications on third world, developing countries like mine. For example, if he pulls out of the Paris Agreement, Zimbabwe, which is already a vulnerable country, is going to be even more vulnerable without support and finance to deal with climate change.”

– Zimbabwean Woman. Contrasting opinions on the impact of the change of American leadership seem to indicate the total lack of confidence on what will actually happen with American policy in the future.

A civil society member, who refused to be identified but was willing to speak to us, mentions that Trump “is a businessman. He puts more energy [towards putting down] marginalized people and discrimination.” She believes we need a bottom-up movement of people caring about their world, since top-down is not happening. “If human beings think about the earth, and the future and future generations, then politics doesn’t matter… If everybody feels that he or she is responsible for the earth, then we can have collective action.”

“If you’re setting off for a just transition and people don’t feel included and like they’re benefiting from the transition, it’s likely to go away.”

– African speaker at an event on the Zero Carbon Transition on how the inequality perpetuated by U.S. politics will prevent us from reaching clean energy goals in an equitable way.

“In the long run, we are very apprehensive about what [Trump] plans to do… If he withdraws from the UNFCCC, that is a very bad sign for the rest of the world.

– Saleemul Huq, IIED/ICCCAD.

Saleemul continues, “you Americans are going to be let down by their own government who doesn’t care about you or about climate change.” Developed countries are used to reaching out to victims of developing countries, but now the rest of the world needs to reach out to “the victims of the United States of America.” A former negotiator and individual who has been to literally every COP ever, Saleemul believes that the international community will consider sanctions against the U.S., suing the U.S., and “will declare [figurative/unarmed] war if the U.S. withdraws from the body of nations working to address climate change.”

“I’m sure you’re all struggling, as I am, to digest what happened yesterday in the US. And I’m sure you’re all wondering, as I am, how the US’s involvement in the Paris Agreement and climate change will impact us all. The answer is, we don’t know.

But I want to remind you of one thing that we do know: WE KNOW that the work we’re doing here collectively today, throughout the next two weeks, and what we’re doing in our home states will continue.

If the U.S. government is going to step back, that means we all need to step up. Political events do not and cannot change the reality of climate change … We all have important work to do and we need to get on it.”

Anonymous speaker at start of Beyond Deforestation panel

Unsurprisingly, party delegates from the Netherlands and the U.S. declined to comment specifically on the election. The guy from the State Department was definitely distressed when I started asking questions, and Avik found out later that all U.S. representatives have been on lock-down physically and instructed not to talk to anyone.

Overall, it’s clear: people outside of the US are also fearful of the implications of Trump’s presidency on the environment, but all is definitely not lost. We have felt truly supported by the community here, as well as inspired by the commitment of many to go on with their good work.

14956435_10157655230015175_2276380381684724227_nA final word of thanks to our week 1 delegates and to Sachi Graber and Ember McCoy for their willingness to dive deeper in this question through this post.

The Election & the Paris Agreement: Part 1

On November 9th, 2016 we woke up here in Marrakech as most of our American friends/family were sleeping (or maybe laying awake unable to sleep). As each one of us made our way downstairs, we thought Sachi was joking when she shared the election news – having to confirm via Google for ourselves (much to her frustration). We were all pretty shocked, sad, angry, and a little embarrassed as we prepped to head off on our third day here at COP 22. We had an unusually long breakfast to collect our thoughts and discuss our initial reactions, and in doing so two main questions circulated our minds:

  1. What can Trump actually do to affect climate policy and the legitimacy of the Paris Agreement?
  2. What does the international climate community think?

In this post, we’re going to try to tackle question one.

Simply put, Trump is a climate denier.


^ Real-life tweet from Trump’s feed, people.

What’s on our minds specifically is Trump’s statement that he will ‘cancel’ the Paris Agreement and cut funding to the UN. We had all heard this back in May when he first declared it, but now that his election is a reality we paused to think:

Wait, what can he actually do?

Here’s our attempt to separate out the answer.

Continue reading “The Election & the Paris Agreement: Part 1”

What’s the Big Deal? : Stakeholder hopes for COP21


  • Mitigation: reduction in emissions of major emitters
  • Transparency: UN oversight to be sure countries fulfill pledges
  • Monetary assistance for less-developed countries


  • Negotiators will do a better job reaching a deal than heads of state (learned from Copenhagen 2009)
  • Would limit warming to 2C or less
  • Encouraging mobilization of $100 billion from developed countries to help less-developed countries adapt
  • Pushing climate deals involving technological innovation, cooperation and transfer
  • Green development and broad participation


  • Primarily concerned that economy not be hindered
  • Wants to keep using coal to fuel growth

Alliance of Small Island States[4]

  • Would limit warming to 1.5C
  • Wants to leave with an agreement on loss and damage due to climate change (e.g. coral bleaching for nations that depend on reefs for breaking waves and tourism)
  • Wants transparency, to ensure all countries fulfill pledge
  • Focusing on adaptation, especially for sea-level rise


  • Needs economically sustainable option to regain popular support for pledge

India [6]

  • wants technical support to expand use of solar
  • transparency, to ensure that everyone meets their pledge
  • Strong decrease in emissions from top polluters (e.g. US, UK)

Latin America[7]

  • Wants pledge that will limit global warming to 1.5~2C
  • Desires technological and financial support from more-developed countries
  • Focusing on adaptation within Latin America
  • Trying to attract clean energy investment: needs support from private sector


  • Justice: asks developed countries to fund adaptation for less-developed countries at risk of being strongly impacted by climate change.
  • Cannot and will not assume more monetary obligation


[1] Todd Stern, Chief US Climate Envoy, on

[2] Xie Zhenghua, China’s top climate change negotiator, 23 November 2015:

Xi Jinping, President of China, 30 November 2015:





[7] 29 November, 2015:

[8] Robert Mugabe, president of Zimbabwe, 30 November 2015.


The Business of Free. Something to learn for climate change?

“We could have saved [the Earth] but we were too damned cheap.”  -Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., A Man Without a Country.

Recently, I became aware of a Pew Research Center poll that found overwhelming support for requiring better fuel efficiency for vehicles (79%), funding for alternative energy (74%), and strong support for spending more on mass transit (63%) and tax incentives for hybrid or electric vehicles (60%).

Americans seem very willing to spend public funds on improving energy efficiency and developing alternative sources of energy that have lower greenhouse gas emissions. Not surprisingly, however, given the American allergy to taxes, support for internalizing the cost of greenhouse gas emissions into the price of energy is not popular. The Pew Center poll did not even bother to ask about increasing prices for carbon-heavy energy.

Many economists tell us that this is a mistake. Market-based policies such as taxes are more efficient than fuel economy regulations or R&D funding. We could pay less overall for the same greenhouse gas reductions by implementing the unpopular polices in place of the popular. In a departure from Kurt Vonnegut’s line above, many Americans are willing to spend public funds on relatively expensive policies but not on the cheaper ones. So why do they prefer the more expensive options?

When presented with this question, I can’t help but think about the strategies of monetizing free content from online media. People don’t want to pay for climate pollution when it has been so conveniently free for so long. Facing the same situation with free media content, many media companies are developing pay strategies that are presumably more acceptable to their customers than tacking a price sticker on a service that was free yesterday. One strategy, which the NY Times is now following, is to allow free content up to a specific limit after which the consumer must pay. Another is to add content at the same time as levying a charge so that consumers feel they are gaining more from the service for their money. Extending this analogy to paying to abate climate change, perhaps Americans are comfortable paying for higher fuel-efficient vehicles, R&D, and mass transit because they feel like they are getting more in return for their money.

Does this notion really relate to climate pollution? I’m not sure, but I think it’s worth looking into. A BBC World Service poll in 2007 reported that 46% of Americans supported paying more for coal and oil but this support rose to 74% if the revenue was devoted to improving efficiency and developing new sources of energy.