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Opinion From Paris to pariah: Trump set to exit climate deal

In a leaked e-mail last year, former U.S. secretary of state Colin Powell called President Donald Trump an "international pariah."

Outlier is a more common descriptive for the President. But the Powell view will find more validation should Mr. Trump, as is being reported, pull out of the Paris climate accord that was accepted by 195 nations, or almost every country on the planet.

If the reports are true – and let's hope they're not – down go the hopes for climate control. Given that the United States is the world's largest economy and second-largest greenhouse-gas polluter, the accord will be undermined. The U.S. emissions cuts would have added up to 20 per cent of the reductions the Paris agreement is supposed to achieve by 2030.

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In the broader context, a U.S. pull-out would rock the international order. It would be a sign that the America Firsters are winning the internal White House debate, that the President is preoccupied with his populist base, which, along with reactionaries around the world, would surely celebrate his repudiation of the Paris accord.

A withdrawal would be in keeping with the strong-armed nationalism on display at the G7 in Italy last week, where Mr. Trump gave NATO priorities a cold shoulder. His Germany-is-bad talk was sophomoric even by his standards. He has pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, he has sometimes sided with dictators over democrats and still will not condemn Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

But turning his back on the accord signed by the Obama administration will be one of the strongest signals that the United States is on an internationalism-be-damned track.

Mr. Trump's national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, and senior economic adviser, Gary Cohn, spelled out the attitude in a Wall Street Journal article on Wednesday. "The president," they wrote, "embarked on his first foreign trip with a clear-eyed outlook that the world is not a 'global community' but an arena where nations, nongovernmental actors and businesses engage and compete for advantage. We bring to this forum unmatched military, political, economic, cultural and moral strength. Rather than deny this elemental nature of international affairs, we embrace it."

So there! Ottawa has pushed hard, as have governments everywhere, as has corporate America, as did Mr. Trump's daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner for the President to adhere to the climate deal. Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland was encouraged in early May when the United States and Arctic Council partners signed the Fairbanks Declaration 2017, stipulating that climate change is the most serious threat to Arctic biodiversity. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson appeared to be moving in the right direction.

But the President, a coal industry supporter, promised in the campaign to flee the Paris pact, and nationalists like adviser Steve Bannon and Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt are said to have the upper hand in holding him to the pledge. Their view is that the climate agreement would shackle the economy, a position that ignores the arguments that the new economy of renewable and clean energy will produce more jobs than the old fossil-fuel one.

Canadian officials are still holding out hopes that Mr. Trump will not pull out or that he will find a compromise. They say a withdrawal would not affect the cross-border economy as badly as might be expected because state-level policies in jurisdictions like California, Minnesota and Massachusetts will not change. They say they do not see major U.S. utilities shifting back to an approach other than clean-energy co-operation.

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But a pull-out would be yet another area where Canada and the United States are operating at cross-purposes and it will be more difficult for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to hold his tongue. What the United States did on climate change was deemed to be so important by the Stephen Harper government that it did not want to take major initiatives on its own until the U.S. direction was clear.

The Paris accord itself is seen by experts as likely not strong enough, even with the United States and all countries playing their part, to stop the planet from heating above the danger mark of 2 C.

If the United States opts out, even any slim hopes are lost.

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