Paris Comes to Pittsburgh

The Trump administration has responded to the international community’s condemnation of its renunciation of the Paris climate agreement by denying that any international community actually exists. Not even a majority of Americans believe that, and at next month’s G20 summit in Hamburg, it will be clear that no leader can make effective foreign policy without accepting reality.


PARIS – In the immortal words of then-British Prime Minister Harold Wilson, a week is a long time in politics. Events with seemingly unambiguous implications may soon be understood very differently. Such a shift in political significance already appears to be occurring in the case of US President Donald Trump’s renunciation of the Paris climate agreement.

With the next meeting of the G20 taking place in Hamburg, Germany, in a few weeks, Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement will soon be shown to have only isolated and estranged the US within the international community. And while senior US officials such as National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and US National Economic Council head Gary Cohn argue that Americans have no cause for alarm, because no “international community” actually exists, the rest of the world knows better – as do most Americans.

Trump’s announcement confirmed what many world leaders have been preparing for: productive American engagement in the world is off the table, at least for the duration of this administration. Indeed, what is most noticeable about the unequivocal global response to Trump’s decision is its consistency. Across the political spectrum, and from the global North and South, the message has been clear: Trump’s decision is bad for the world and, no surprise, also bad for America. At the very least, the US will fall to the back of the pack in the global race for a low-carbon future, with profound consequences for America’s relative economic performance and global standing.

Trump’s Suspended Reality

That second point has been emphasized by US business leaders, state governors, and city mayors who have created the #WeAreStillIn movement. In justifying his repudiation of the Paris accord, Trump argued that he had been elected to “represent Pittsburgh, not Paris” – an applause line for a Rose Garden audience packed with White House staffers. In response, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto announced almost immediately that his city, which has made a remarkable transition from being “Steeltown USA” to a health care, research, and education powerhouse (and which voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton), was moving to 100% renewable energy and remained committed to the Paris agreement.