What are the factors that precipitated the decision by Trump to withdraw from the Paris Agreement?

Politics and egos aside, the withdrawal of the US from the Paris Agreement is likely to set a dangerous precedence. Dishonoring of previous agreements by political incumbents could become a common place in future.

Former President of the United States (US) Barack Obama has been very vocal on reversing the frontiers of climate change. “In November 2014, President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping stood together in Beijing to make a historic U.S.-China Joint Announcement on Climate Change”. His enthusiasm in tackling climate change has impressed and angered many alike. Obama was not the first one to hint at doing something about climate change in the US. During his state of the national address in 2006 President George W Bush told Americans that “America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world.” This many believe was the earliest sign of things to come, it suggested a new US foreign policy towards oil and those that produce it. Barack Obama has displayed a far much better understanding of climate change and causes thereof than many of his predecessors. He has often displayed that understanding at various platforms including during the Conference of Parties (COP) 15 in Copenhagen in 2009. He was the first US president to accept responsibility on US’s detrimental contribution to climate change. “As the world’s largest economy and the world’s second largest emitter, America bears our share of responsibility in addressing climate change, and we intend to meet that responsibility” he said. When the Deep Water Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico occurred Obama was visibly livid. The US went on to impose one of the largest penalty in history in this regard, this angered a number of oil producing companies and countries.

The 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change was very personal for Barack Obama. He worked very hard behind the scenes to ensure that there was a wider consensus and endorsement. The immediate reaction many had when the agreement was reached was how it was going to impact in a long run on those countries that are still wholly reliant on oil as the main source of revenue. They cautioned at the time that unless countries like Saudi Arabia diversify their economies the Paris Agreement was going to have a huge impact on their main revenue source, oil. Broadly speaking article 6 of the Paris Agreement “outlines the cooperative approaches that parties can take in achieving their nationally determined carbon emissions reductions”. Simply put, countries must strive to reduce carbon dioxide and other related gases detrimental to our environment. This has been amongst the main point of concern for the oil/petroleum producing countries. “Humans burning large amounts of petroleum create large amounts of carbon dioxide gas that traps heat in the Earth’s atmosphere”.

The announcement by President Donald Trump to withdraw from the Paris Agreement was not a surprise. What is suspect is the timing of the announcement. Trump has just returned from his first business trip as the president of the US. His first stop was to Saudi Arabia the largest oil producing country. Trump met a number of leaders from the oil producing countries whilst in the country. Did Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia precipitate his decision to pull out of the Paris Agreement? Secondly to what extent did his and certain Arab leaders’ disdain, mistrust and skepticism of Barack Obama influence his decision in this instance? Whatever the answers, the words of Angela Markel are beginning resonate. Speaking to a crowd of some 2500 Merkel warned, “the times in which we can fully count on others are somewhat over, as I have experienced in the past few days”. The Paris Agreement was a proud achievement for Germany and the US. Over the past couple of years the leaders from both countries have demonstrated strong bond and friendship. The last overseas trip Barack Obama made as the president was to Germany and his first overseas business engagement as the former president has been to the same country.

In conclusion, notwithstanding Trump’s known disdain of Obama including his ambition of annulling his political legacy, it could be argued that his renewed enthusiasm had much to do with his recent visit to Saudi Arabia. Some very powerful leaders in the Arab world have had an axe to grind with Barack Obama over the years. They found a right person in Trump to retaliate. Besides Obama’s lead in the realization of the Paris Agreement he also pushed and achieved what is known as P5+1 Nuclear Agreement. This agreement angered many leaders in the Middle East including Israel. P5+1 it is a group of 6 world powers which joined together in a diplomatic efforts with Iran and reached an agreement regarding Iran’s nuclear program.

In conclusion, the multi billion dollar weapons contract signed recently between Saudi Arabia and the US in Riyadh will have to be financed somehow. Saudi Arabia’s economy remained extremely undiversified, oil is the main source of revenue. The Paris Agreement in all appearances, perhaps not immediately, threatens the continued flow of oil revenues. Petroleum has been sighted by scientists as one of the greatest source of carbon dioxide which is mainly blamed for the rising global warming.



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Thembisa Fakude

Senior Research Fellow Africa Asia Dialogues, Johannesburg, SA Research Fellow Al Sharq Forum, Istanbul, Turkiye Columnist, Middle East Monitor, London UK.