President Trump’s rejection of the Paris climate accord earlier this year sparked international condemnation. But in many ways the deal was sabotaged before it was even signed; Trump’s trouncing merely sealed the coffin. For all the polarization Trump has spurred, progressive environmentalists know that the deal was never intended to resolve the crisis but, rather, to contain the worst consequences of extreme weather and global warming.
A sober-eyed analysis of the Paris accord, published by Corporate Accountability International (CAI) ahead of the next round of climate talks that begins this week in Bonn, Germany, contends that Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris accord isn’t so much a battle between environmental progress and capitalist regression but, rather, a classic good cop/bad cop charade. Since corporations have shaped the agendas of both the Trump administration and the accord-negotiation process, environmental watchdogs argue that the treaty was actually rigged from the outset, and corporate profiteers have free rein to capitalize off watered-down regulations, with or without the United States. Whether the accord unravels or hobbles on post-Trump, the communities most impacted by climate change are bound to lose more lives, land, and jobs needlessly, as emissions and temperatures soar and mitigation measures are neglected.
“At it’s best, the Paris Agreement was simply the most the US would agree to,” says CAI spokesperson Jesse Bragg. Since that the agreement never had the full force of law, “What Trump is pulling the US out of is actually a great deal for US business—there are no binding limits, no regulations, and the agreement goes out of its way to invite corporations to take part.”
The main problem, according to CAI, is that the entire treaty framework is bound up in a free-market infrastructure that relies on the goodwill of energy monopolies. The “corporate capture” of the treaty-negotiation system, the report concludes, has ensured that the current emissions-reduction schedule will never be ambitious enough to yield the radical structural transformations needed to cope with the climate crisis.
It’s true that Trump has proven to be the fossil-fuel industry’s staunchest ally in the climate-treaty process. In fact, the White House and EPA chief Scott Pruitt, a former corporate lawyer, are still pushing to weaken the deal further by pushing nuclear and coal power at the Bonn summit. Nonetheless, while trade groups like the World Coal Association and US Chamber of Commerce may seem aligned with Trump against Paris, behind the scenes the same influence peddlers have been buying the loyalties of climate negotiators since well before Trump’s election. Energy giants have used the talks as advertising platforms to promote industry-friendly “solutions,” like hyped-up, untested schemes for carbon-storage technology. Similarly, agribusiness lobbies have exploited the talks to push synthetic fertilizers and genetically modified products marketed as “climate-smart agriculture.”