President Donald Trump says he will make his announcement today on whether to pull the United States out of the landmark Paris climate accord, a decision environmentalists warn would be a crime against the future of the planet and humanity. Will he or won’t he? As the game show-like deliberations continue, we speak with Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune, author of "Coming Clean: Breaking America’s Addiction to Oil and Coal," and with South African environmental activist and former Greenpeace head Kumi Naidoo.
AMY GOODMAN: President Donald Trump says he’ll make his announcement today on whether to pull the United States out of the landmark Paris climate accord, a decision environmentalists warn would be a crime against the future of the planet and humanity. On Twitter, Trump said he would make the announcement at 3:00 p.m. Eastern time in the White House Rose Garden, and ended his tweet with, quote, "MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!"
In 2015, nearly 200 nations agreed in Paris to the global accord to curb rising greenhouse gas emissions blamed for warming the planet. The climate pact was heralded as a rare moment of international collaboration to avert imminent climate disaster. Now The Guardian is reporting China and the European Union plan to forge an alliance to take a leading role in tackling climate change, in response to Trump’s expected decision to pull out of the agreement. The new alliance will reportedly focus on leading the energy transition toward a low-carbon economy. An early draft of the announcement from the two countries describes climate change as a national security issue and multiplying factor of social and political fragility.
On Wednesday in Brussels, Belgium, members of the European Parliament booed reports that Trump will likely pull the U.S. out of the Paris accord. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said the administration will have a hard time withdrawing.
JEAN-CLAUDE JUNCKER: [translated] That’s not how it works. The Americans can’t just leave the climate protection agreement. Mr. Trump believes that, because he doesn’t get close enough to the dossiers to fully understand them. It would take three to four years after the agreement came into force in November 2016 to leave the agreement. So this notion—"I am Trump, I am American, America first, and I am going to get out of it"—that won’t happen.
AMY GOODMAN: On Wednesday, the United Nations tweeted, "Climate change is undeniable. Climate action is unstoppable. Climate solutions provide opportunities that are unmatchable." As the world awaits Trump’s final decision, leaders from Brussels to Beijing reaffirmed their commitment to implement the Paris climate accord, and urged the United States not to become a global pariah. This is the German ambassador to the U.S., Peter Wittig, speaking to the PBS NewsHour.
PETER WITTIG: We have been a staunch advocate of the Paris Agreement. We think it’s a landmark achievement. It’s a almost universal—universal agreement, containing the global warming, fighting climate change. And we think it’s so important that the U.S. stays on board in a leadership role. Thanks to the U.S., this agreement was possible in the first place. Now, if the U.S. would leave, you know, it would be a kind of self-isolation, and the U.S. would find itself in odd company, just with Syria and Nicaragua, the only countries that are not part of the Paris Agreement. And we don’t think that’s a good option.
AMY GOODMAN: Since taking office, Donald Trump has threatened to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord, begun dismantling President Obama’s climate legacy and revived the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. Trump has also put climate change deniers in charge of several key agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, and proposed slashing the budget of the EPA and other climate programs. This is candidate Donald Trump speaking on the campaign trail last year.
DONALD TRUMP: We’re going to cancel the Paris climate agreement and stop—unbelievable—and stop all payments of the United States’ tax dollars to U.N. global warming programs.
AMY GOODMAN: The New York Times reports Trump’s inner circle is now fiercely divided on the Paris climate accord, with chief strategist Steve Bannon and EPA administrator Scott Pruitt demanding Trump withdraw from the accord, with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Trump’s daughter and adviser Ivanka Trump advocating for the agreement. On Wednesday, Trump met Tillerson.
Meanwhile, as Trump deliberates, Antarctica could soon break off an iceberg roughly the size of Delaware as temperatures continue to rise. In other climate news, in Sri Lanka, more than 180 people have been killed and half a million people displaced amidst the worst flooding the country has seen in 14 years. Scientists have linked torrential rains and increased flooding in Sri Lanka to climate change.
For more, we’re joined by two guests. In San Francisco, California, we’re joined by Michael Brune, the executive director of the Sierra Club. His book, Coming Clean: Breaking America’s Addiction to Oil and Coal. And via Democracy Now! video stream, we’re joined by Kumi Naidoo, South African environmental activist, former Greenpeace head. He joins us from Johannesburg.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Michael Brune, let’s begin with you. First explain what the climate accord is all about and what you think it will mean if in fact the rumors are true that President Trump will pull the U.S. out today.
MICHAEL BRUNE: Sure. Hi, Amy. Well, first, the Paris climate agreement, what it actually is, is a landmark agreement that binds all countries together in a common fight against climate change. United States, China, India, as you just mentioned, close to 200 countries have made a commitment, all to work together to replace fossil fuels with clean energy.
If the United States pulls out as the reports are saying, it would be a huge mistake. It would be a boneheaded move by an unpopular president, that would link the United States to more—a greater dependency on fossil fuels, coal and oil and natural gas, at the exact time when clean and renewable energy is cheaper, they cut air and water pollution, and they’re stimulating the economy at the same time. It would be a historic mistake.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s voluntary. Is that right?
MICHAEL BRUNE: The agreement itself is binding. It was signed a couple decades ago. But the individual commitments that countries made, that the United States made, that China and India, all of those commitments are voluntary. And they’re enforced by—within their own country.
AMY GOODMAN: Kumi Naidoo, in Johannesburg, South Africa, the response to the—if the rumors are true, that Trump plans to pull out, pull the U.S. out of the climate accord, what has been the response there? We just heard what happened in Brussels, Belgium, with the booing, as they heard this news.
KUMI NAIDOO: Well, there’s a sense of unreality. And, you know, even as we sit now, six hours before he’s about to give his press conference to take a final position on the Paris Agreement, even right now, to be honest, we cannot believe that the United States government will act against the interests of its own people and the interests of people across the world. And for us in Africa, where our continent has a very low level of responsibility in terms of accumulated emissions historically, and we are already paying the first and most brutal price, there is a deep sense of not just shock, but a sense of unreality that the United States, under Bush, held us back by eight years, and now we are going back.
And people need to bear in mind that the Paris climate agreement is far from a perfect agreement. People like Mike and myself, in Paris, fought for a much more ambitious agreement, because what the agreement does build in is a five-year review, so that the ambition levels can be picked up. So, even this compromised agreement, for it to be undermined this way, if he will at 3:00 today say that we are pulling out of the Paris climate agreement, people need to understand, from a Global South perspective, people in the so-called developing world, we would see that as Donald Trump issuing a suicide note for the rest of the world, including, ultimately, for the people of the United States, as well.
AMY GOODMAN: And specifically Africa, Kumi Naidoo, what does this mean? What does Africa face? You were critical of the Paris accord. What do you think it does well? What do you think it doesn’t do well?
KUMI NAIDOO: No, the Paris accord actually dealt with a very complicated set of politics, power, vested interests and so on. We wanted to get a much more ambitious agreement, with much more clear targets, much more aggressive timelines to get us off our addiction to fossil fuels. What we have has given us a chance to live to fight another day. It sets us in the direction that we need to go. And what we were hoping, as people who said we have reservations, but our governments did the best they can, we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt, but every five years we will review it, we’ll look at what the science is saying, and we will pick up the level of ambition.
Now, for us in Africa, people need to understand that it is not like climate impacts are going to hit us somewhere in the future. There are parts of the African continent that are becoming depopulated now as a result of climate-intensified desertification and climate-intensified drought. So we are seeing the reality now of climate refugees.
And one of the things that the CIA and the Pentagon has urged first President Bush and now President Trump, to say that, in fact, in the coming—already in 2002, the Pentagon and the CIA noted that in the coming decades and in the future, the biggest threat to peace, security and stability will come from the impacts of climate change. So when we look at the rise of conflict on the African continent at the moment, including the rise of radical terrorism, what we note clearly, that water scarcity, land scarcity, giving you the toxic mix of food scarcity, is what is driving this conflict. So, in—if he takes this decision, not only is he ignoring what the pope has said, what the biggest body of scientific knowledge has said, he’s also ignoring what his own chief of defense just said to him, which is that climate change constitutes the biggest threat, which we are seeing already on the African continent in places like Darfur, in Sudan.
AMY GOODMAN: Michael Brune, can you explain what it means if the U.S. pulls out? It doesn’t just happen in one day. Explain what the process would be—
MICHAEL BRUNE: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —and who the constituency is that Donald Trump is answering to—for example, his promises to coal miners, and whether or not this pulling out will mean jobs.
MICHAEL BRUNE: Sure. Well, first, Kumi, it’s good to see you again.
KUMI NAIDOO: Likewise.
MICHAEL BRUNE: I agree with what you said, in that the Paris climate agreement was our first chance to get every country working together to fight climate change, and it represents an opportunity, something that needs to be strengthened over time.
So, Amy, if the United States were to pull out of the Paris climate agreement, what it would mean—there’s a couple different ways in which that could happen. Either the United States could pull out of the agreement itself, which, as you said at the top of your show, would take three to four years, or it could take an even more drastic step and pull out of the entire framework in which the United Nations negotiates these types of agreements. What that would mean, essentially, is that the U.S. would be walking away from the table—the entire global community—as it discusses and develops ways to address the reality of climate change. I think, more practically speaking, what it would mean is that the U.S. would abdicate its leadership on both the national and international stage.
What we’re starting to see—actually, what we’ve been seeing for several years is that there is leadership on climate change happening from almost every sector of the global economy. There are hundreds of mayors who are making commitments to accelerate development towards clean energy, probably a hundred within the last several months in the United States alone, committing to go to 100 percent clean energy. We’re seeing in the private sector CEOs increasingly taking very strong positions on clean energy and vowing to move beyond all fossil fuels, as well as nuclear power, in an attempt to build their own economic dependency on clean energy. And we’re seeing that the clean energy sector, particularly solar and wind, is the fastest-growing sector of the U.S. economy.
So, who Trump is speaking to are his benefactors and executives in the fossil fuel industry, in the coal and oil and gas industries. The Sierra Club and most of the environmental community and communities across Appalachia, we are committed to working with coal communities, with workers in those industries, to make sure that their pensions are protected, that their livelihoods are protected. And we’re looking to find a way to transition to a clean energy economy that works for workers, as well as those communities who are dependent on coal and other fossil fuels, as we transition to a clean energy economy that cuts pollution and saves the planet. We can do this.
AMY GOODMAN: We’ll have Part 2 of our discussion on whether or not President Trump pulls the U.S. out of the climate accord tomorrow, his announcement coming today at 3:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, and Kumi Naidoo, South African environmentalist, former head of Greenpeace International.
This is Democracy Now! When we come back, the youngest-ever head of the NAACP throws his hat into the governor’s race of Maryland. We speak with Ben Jealous. Stay with us.