What Will US Withdrawal from Paris Climate Accord Mean for Farmers
Aug 03, 2017
On June 1, President Trump announced in a Rose Garden speech that he would initiate steps that would formally withdraw the United States from participation in the Paris Climate Accord, an international agreement reached in 2015 aimed at reducing emissions of greenhouse gases around the world.
Under the terms of the Paris agreement (Article 28.1), any country can withdraw from participation within three years of that country’s formal acceptance of the agreement. For the United States, that right can be exercised as of November 4, 2019, and such a declaration would constitute a one-year notice of withdrawal. Ironically, the date when formal withdrawal could finally be achieved would occur one day after the U.S. Presidential election in 2020.
If the President follows through on his announced decision to withdraw, the United States would then find itself in rather limited company among the world’s sovereign nations. As of right now, only two countries are not signatories to the Paris Accord--Nicaragua, which felt the agreement did not go far enough, and Syria. The rest of the world is united in the belief that climate change presents a real threat to the well-being of the 7 billion plus people on this planet, and have committed to take steps to address it, even though the agreement does not bind any individual country to take action.
Unless this decision is reversed, the U.S. government is withdrawing itself from the international process on what future steps might be taken to combat climate change. Decisions will be made by other governments who don’t necessarily have our best interests at heart--such as members of the European Union, and China. For example, one policy that has been under consideration in the EU has been the imposition of tariffs on imports that take into account the GHG emissions associated with the production of that good, such as steel. Without U.S. participation in the process, it would be tempting for the EU to apply these carbon taxes more broadly, including on agricultural products. As the modern proverb goes, 'if you're not at the table, you're on the menu.'
In addition to withdrawing from participation in the international climate agreement, the Trump administration has taken other steps to back off on U.S. initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions started during the Obama administration, such as the Clean Power Plan and efforts to improve the efficiency of the U.S. car fleet by requiring greater fuel efficiency in the future by cars and trucks.
Almost from the day he took office in mid-February, the new EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt began to dismantle the work being done at climate change in his agency. As Oklahoma attorney general, Pruitt was known as a strong ally of the state’s oil and gas industry, and had sued the agency he now heads more than a dozen times, many of them related the agency’s authority over U.S. climate change and renewable fuels policies. Within about two months, EPA had taken down the portion of its website devoted to the science of climate change and related policies. Administrator Pruitt has stated in press interviews that he does not believe that carbon dioxide is a primary contributor to climate change, despite the EPA’s own data that show that carbon dioxide from human activities accounted for more than 80 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2015.
In addition, the Trump administration proposed severe cuts in research areas related to climate change in their FY18 budget proposal released in May, including a 69 percent cut in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) at the U.S. Department of Energy, that has worked on biofuels in the past, and complete elimination of EPA’s Global Change Research Program, as well as a number of program that EPA operates in conjunction with state and local groups to develop policies aimed at addressing climate change.
USDA does not have many named programs dealing with climate change issues, but many of the agencies that engage in related work faced significant proposed cuts in the Trump budget as well, such as cutting USDA’s research agencies by $700 million and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), which manages USDA’s working land conservation programs, by $240 million. The two bills reported out by the House and Senate Agricultural Appropriations Committees this summer suggest that Congress is not willing to go along with these cuts of these magnitude, at least for FY18.
So far, USDA has not taken any steps to reduce its work on climate change and how climate change might affect farmers, but Secretary Sonny Perdue, the sole Senate-confirmed appointee working at the Department so far, has more-or-less toed the Administration line on climate change. In a May 2017 interview with Harvest Public Media, he acknowledged that climate change is real, but seemed to dispute the scientific consensus that climate change is largely the result of human activities. As of August 2nd, the research and policy documents on climate change on the website for the Climate Change Program Office in the Office of USDA’s Chief Economist have not been altered or removed.