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Not So Fast, Mr. Trump

June 5, 2017

By Pat Parenteau, Senior Counsel and Professor, Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic​​

June 1, 2017,​ will go down as the day the United States turned its back on the international community and relinquished its leadership on the greatest environmental threat the world has ever faced. President Trump's decision to leave the Paris climate agreement—signed by all of the nations of the world except Syria and Nicaragua—was, in the words of distinguis​​hed career diplomat R. Nicholas Burns, a "colossal foreign policy mistake."

But there's a catch. Exiting the agreement is not as simple as it may seem. As our colleague and noted international scholar Professor David Wirth has pointed out here ​it will take nearly four years to complete the withdrawal process under article 28 of the agreement. That means that the earliest the withdrawal would become effective is November 2020—after the next presidential election.


Pat Parenteau discusses Trump backing out of the Paris Agreement.

So this story, like climate change itself, is not going away. In fact it will be on every ballot between now and 2020. Already,​​ the forces are gathering to oppose Trump's benighted views on the US role in the world and to seize the opportunity to build a cleaner, more sustainable economy with good paying jobs. Under the leadership of Michael Bloomberg a group of 30 mayors, three governors, more than 100 university presidents, and more than 100 businesses has formed to negotiate an arrangement with the UN to allow them to submit carbon reduction commitments as "non-state actors" ​​in upcoming UN climate negotiations. If combined these entries would constitute the sixth largest source of greenhouse gases.

In his Rose Garden announcement Trump repeated his "America First" philosophy of governance bragging that he was elected to represent the citizens of "Pittsburgh not Paris." But Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto immediately tweeted out this reply: "As the Mayor of Pittsburgh, I can assure you that we will follow the guidelines of the Paris Agreement for our people, our economy & future." And according to the most recent poll by the Yale Program on Climate Communication seven out of 10 Americans—including a majority of registered Republicans—​support remaining in the agreement.

Perhaps Mr. Trump has misread his mandate from the American people. One can only hope that will soon become apparent.

Vermont Law School does not endorse or oppose any particular view or position on this matter. This blog should not be construed as the school’s endorsement of, or opposition to, any particular view on this subject.