I’m told by someone who knows about these things that the Obama-era climate actions, combined with ongoing shifts in the U.S. energy sector, will ensure that the U.S. will reach its announced (voluntary) target under the Paris agreement, or nearly so, whatever Trump decides to do. Rex Tillerson has also chimed in:
I don’t think we’re going to change our ongoing efforts to reduce those emissions in the future either, so hopefully, people can keep it [the Paris withdrawal] in perspective.
If all this true, then U.S. policy is to effectively comply with an agreement that the U.S. formally repudiates.
A bizarre form of negative hypocrisy (“hypercrisy”?)! Rather than (as usual) declare ourselves virtuous to the world by signing idealistic agreements that we expect to violate, we declare ourselves amoral by announcing that we will violate agreements we plan to comply with? The tribute that virtue pays to vice? What gives?
The obvious answer is that Trump is merely playing to his base; the withdrawal is symbolic, while the political and economic tectonic forces do their thing. Still, it is worth keeping in mind some precedents:
1. The U.S. negotiated the League of Nations treaty, then refused to join that body, then sent “observers” who allowed the U.S. to play a role in that organization.
2. The U.S. led the way in the negotiations of the International Trade Organization, but then refused to join it, and yet managed to replace it with the quasi-legal GATT.
3. The U.S. helped negotiate the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, then refused to join it, even after it was renegotiated to further advance U.S. interests, but has more or less accepted it as customary international law.
4. The U.S. helped negotiate the Rome Treaty creating the International Criminal Court, then “unsigned” the treaty, then still later supported the ICC in various ways.
The common element is that the treaties were elite projects (led by the president) that never achieved the support of the general public, or significant elements of it (who spoke through the Senate or Congress). The government pursued them anyway, outside formal international legal frameworks. Trump may be different, but it seems more likely that sooner or later the pattern established in the examples above will play out in the arena of international climate policy as well.