May 31, 2017 / 7:38 PM / 3 months ago

Trump climate exit has bright silver lining

Protesters dressed as the earth and U.S. President Donald Trump pretend to fight during the Peoples Climate March near the White House in Washington, U.S., April 29, 2017.Joshua Roberts

NEW YORK (Reuters Breakingviews) - Donald Trump is set to withdraw from the Paris accord on climate change, news reports say. To some that's a clear abdication of U.S. leadership. There may be a silver lining, though. For the nearly 200 countries committed to the deal – including the EU and top polluter China – progress may be much smoother free of Washington foot-dragging.

For sure, American support for anti-warming measures will be missed. The country is the world No. 2 emitter of greenhouse gases and boasts the largest economy. German Chancellor Angela Merkel called Trump's stance on climate change "very unsatisfying" after the G7 gathering at the weekend.

Even oil and gas giant Exxon Mobil wants the United States to stay in the Paris group. Chief Executive Darren Woods wrote to Trump personally to that effect just last week. However, the impact of federal policies is cushioned by the momentum that exists at state, local and business levels toward renewable energy and other climate-friendly goals.

In fact, while no doubt expressing regret, representatives of other sovereign states may quietly be relieved. The president's skepticism of multilateral forums – evident in his remarks to G7 leaders and in earlier comments about, for instance, the United Nations – suggests that Washington's emissaries would not be highly motivated to find common ground with everyone else. That could bog down the global effort needed to slow man-made climate warming.

With a U.S. exit there's more scope for fairly swift consensus as well as more room for China, as one prominent example, to take a greater leadership role. Ceding a place at the head of the table is one risk Trump runs in pulling out. Another is that the United States could miss out on some of the anticipated economic boost from investments in renewable energy and other green infrastructure.

A concern for the Paris initiative is that other countries could follow America's lead. But the "out" club is currently tiny, comprising just Syria and Nicaragua. The rest of the G7 and other developed economies are committed and under public pressure to remain so. The likes of China and India, meanwhile, face environmental problems that demand top-down action. Maybe the United Nations is right: It tweeted on Wednesday that climate change is "undeniable" and action "unstoppable."

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