26 May 2017

Trump Tower by the sea

What will happen if Trump withdraws from Paris Agreement

Als trump uit het klimaatakkoord stapt
Trump Tower by the sea.

President Donald Trump sent a tweet on Wednesday to announce his decision on the Paris Agreement on climate change in the coming days. 'From an economic perspective, this would be unwise for the US', says Detlef van Vuuren, Professor of Integrated Assessment of Global Environmental Change at Utrecht University (UU). How would he convince Trump to adhere to the agreements laid down in the Paris Agreement?

Trump Tower by the sea: fiction or future fact?

Van Vuuren laughs, amused by the metaphor. 'Any scenario where Trump Tower ends up under water would be a very dramatic one. New York  should be well able to contend with the rising sea levels. The United States has enough money to make the necessary investments, as do we. The Netherlands is very well suited for dealing with rising sea levels. Poor countries have a problem. If we don't do anything, sea levels could rise by one-and-a-half metres in the next century. The Netherlands should be able to handle this. We are perfectly capable of building dykes that can stop the water. In the long term, say some three hundred years, the rise in sea levels could involve many metres. Whether we would be able to handle that is not quite so clear. Perhaps we would have to decide to give up stretches of the Netherlands.'


'The agreement made in Paris entails that all countries will attempt to restrict the rise in temperature to between one-and-a-half and two degrees at most. This will require extremely hefty emission reductions. All countries have made concrete promises regarding emission reductions. If you add everything up, we will never make that two-degrees target, but will be dealing with a higher rise. A temperature increase of some three degrees seems likely. We know that this will involve marked climate change effects, which will strongly influence agriculture, for example. Some island states will be submerged. Countries would really have to tighten their policies in any case to meet the Paris target.'


'Negotiations for the Paris Agreement were very lengthy. The United States is still the second country in the world in terms of CO2 emissions. Europe and the US are relatively rich and thus are more easily able to do something about those emissions. This is why it is so important that these richer countries are parties to the agreement. If the US were to withdraw, other countries would find it very illogical to have to take extra measures to further tighten the emissions policy. Take India or China, for example. Those countries say: We were not the cause of this in the past, so why would we tighten the policy? So if Trump withdraws, you will have lost a great deal of that process.'


'Yet it still remains less logical to suppose that everyone will withdraw from the Paris Agreement. Many countries have bluntly stated: We don't care if Trump goes his own way. We will be meeting our commitments. But on the other hand I suspect it will be extremely difficult to attempt to bring down emission reductions even further. In the short term negotiations on this will head nowhere. It should certainly not be expected that everyone will withdraw from the agreement. If Trump does not uphold the requirements of the Paris Agreement, a number of things will happen. California, for instance, does want to reduce emissions. You will see this state continuing on this route together with other states. And then there's another strong point: In part thanks to policies pursued by countries like Germany in recent decades, other types of energy, such as solar and wind, have become more competitive. Compared to five years ago, climate policy is quite a bit more robust. And thanks to the Paris Agreement, countries at least feel committed to the current agreements. To a degree it has encouraged countries like China to put climate change on the national agenda and keep it there. In that sense that Paris Agreement is at least as important as the individual promises that countries make.'

Compared to five years ago, climate policy is quite a bit more robust.
Detlef van Vuuren
Professor Detlef van Vuuren


'How would I convince Trump to stick to the agreement? He recently proclaimed that he would be keeping the coal mines open, but bear in mind that coal is actually relatively expensive in the US. Financially speaking it's not a good move. In England the coal mines have been shut down. Not out of climate concerns, but because they no longer made enough money. I would bring up the risks of lower agricultural production and the related increased risk of refugee flows. It is foolish from an economic perspective to do nothing about climate policy.' So you would bring up financial and economic arguments? 'Yes. And I would point out to him the consequences of climate change to the US: the rising sea levels, refugees and the effects on American agriculture. It will become more difficult for developing countries to meet their food needs, so more and more people will head for richer countries. Whether a wall will suffice in that case remains to be seen. And don't forget that pursuing climate policy can also mean economic opportunities. Renewable energy is a new technology which will quickly grow cheaper. So that also creates investment opportunities.'


"During the last Bush presidency, climate policy also ground to a halt, but this is different. American scientists are now afraid that when they speak out against Trump's policy too strongly, their institute will run the risk of being closed. Scientists who want to present facts based on their research are wondering: What can I still say? What will be the consequences if I do?"


"Prior to the G7 summit last weekend I have had a great deal of influence on what has happened. I contributed to the IPCC's AR5 report. That report was highly influential with regard to the Paris Agreement. Together with the work of other scientists, my work has contributed to Paris becoming a success. Let's hope it remains one."

Prof Detlef van Vuuren

Professor of Integrated Assessment of Global Environmental Change Detlef van Vuuren (1970) is Professor of Integrated Assessment of Global Environmental Change at the Faculty of Geosciences at Utrecht University (UU) and senior scientific researcher at the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL: Planbureau voor de Leefomgeving), where he is head of the IMAGE integrated assessment modelling team. He has published over 240 articles in scientific journals including Nature, Science, Nature Climate Change, Nature Energy, Nature Geosciences, PNAS and Environmental Research Letters. He is known as one of the most cited scientists in the world.