President Donald Trump’s announcement on June 1 that the United States would pull out of the Paris climate agreement that had been reached in 2015 after drawn-out, delicate negotiations drew ire from around the world, including among Indigenous Peoples. All but two countries, Syria and Nicaragua, had signed on to what many called a “toothless” agreement, a nonbinding document that left individual countries a lot of latitude as to how they would participate and adjust their greenhouse gas emissions.
The Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) denounced the move and vowed “continued resistance to Trump’s disastrous environmental policies,” the coalition said in a statement.
The actual repercussions of the pullout remained murky—pundits either decried it as damaging to the climate, or derided it as a deeply disrespectful gesture to not only the world but also to the democratic ideals that the U.S. ostensibly espouses.
“Donald Trump is showing us the art of breaking a deal,” IEN Executive Director Tom Goldtooth said in the statement. “By abandoning the Paris Agreement, this administration will further perpetuate environmental racism and climate injustice against Indigenous Peoples experiencing the worst effects of climate change across the globe. We’ve stated before that the Paris Agreement falls short of embracing the sort of climate solutions that lift up human rights and the rights of Indigenous Peoples.”
Signed on April 22, 2016, the agreement called for countries to reduce their carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions by a certain amount. The U.S. agreed to a reduction of 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, according to The New York Times. President Barack Obama also committed to giving $3 billion to help lesser-developed nations cope. At the time, Indigenous Peoples thought the accord didn’t go far enough and didn’t adequately address indigenous issues. But to throw it out entirely makes even less sense, Goldtooth said.
“Regardless of its shortcomings, it is critical that the United States be held accountable for its contributions to the climate chaos we are seeing across the globe and to take ambitious action to meet the Agreement’s goal to limit temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius,” Goldtooth said. “Backing out of this agreement continues a long history of broken promises and threatens the vital and sacred life cycles of Mother Earth.”
“Certainly, the Paris Agreement did not fulfill all the aspirations of Indigenous Peoples and fell short for many vulnerable States as well,” said the International Indian Treaty Council in a statement. “But it provides a basis for future advocacy to ensure that all national and international programs addressing Climate Change are carried out with respect for the rights of Indigenous Peoples as affirmed in the UN Declaration for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, along with all the other anti-environmental actions of the U.S. President and the Republican majority should be condemned by those who seek to create a better life for all Peoples and to fulfill our sacred responsibilities to Mother Earth.”
In addition to being a gesture of disrespect to the world, it was also a blow to environmental justice, indigenous advocates said.
“Today’s announcement is a direct assault on indigenous communities the world over,” said Eriel Deranger, executive director of Indigenous Climate Action, Canada, in the IEN statement. “North American Indigenous Peoples have been working together, across colonial borders, to find collaborative solutions that address climate change and systemic oppression that has left our people out of the conversation. This decision now creates another barrier for our people to overcome, making indigenous knowledge and leadership even more critical and vital to ensure a sustainable and just future for everyone.”
Many others concurred. Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vermont, and Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Arizona, released statements, as did climate activist and former Vice President Al Gore. Even supporters such as Tesla’s Elon Musk and Robert Iger of Disney left the Trump advisory fold, the Los Angeles Timesreported.
“Removing the United States from the Paris Agreement is a reckless and indefensible action,” said Gore, one of the leaders in the fight to reverse and mitigate climate change. “It undermines America’s standing in the world and threatens to damage humanity’s ability to solve the climate crisis in time. But make no mistake: if President Trump won’t lead, the American people will.”
Environmental advocates were equally outraged.
“Far from putting America first, Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement is a short-sighted sop to the fossil fuel lobby,” said Trip Van Noppen, president of the nonprofit environmental legal firm Earthjustice, which is also representing the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in its attempts to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). “It is a profound failure of American global leadership. It willfully ignores the climate crisis. It will cost U.S. workers clean energy jobs. History will judge withdrawing from the Paris Agreement as a huge error.”
Van Noppen and others pointed out that there is a process to leaving the agreement—and it stretches until two years after the midterm elections.
"Trump’s announcement is far from the final word,” Van Noppen said. “Legally, the United States is still in the Paris Agreement until at least November 4, 2020. As an environmental law organization, Earthjustice will continue to do everything in our power to accelerate the clean energy transition in the United States and globally. We are already working in states around the country and with partners around the world. Trump's action won't reverse the momentum. Progress will continue. The American people will not turn our back on climate leadership. The consequences are simply too dire."
Indeed, several states and dozens of cities immediately pledged to the international community that they would uphold the tenets of the agreement even if the federal government does not, McClatchy reported. Our northern neighbor, Canada, said it would not waver from the agreement, as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was “deeply disappointed” at the withdrawal.
“Canada is unwavering in our commitment to fight climate change and support clean economic growth,” Trudeau said in a statement. “Canadians know we need to take decisive and collective action to tackle the many harsh realities of our changing climate. While the U.S. decision is disheartening, we remain inspired by the growing momentum around the world to combat climate change and transition to clean growth economies. We are proud that Canada stands united with all the other parties that support the Agreement. We will continue to work with our domestic and international partners to drive progress on one of the greatest challenges we face as a world.”
Congress, too, came out swinging.
“The Trump administration and its climate denier allies have isolated themselves from the real world,” said Grijalva, ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, in a statement. “Leaders of real stature don’t need to sacrifice human lives and Americans’ health to prove how smart and tough they are. If they have any hope of rebuilding their lost credibility, this administration and its apologists need to reverse course immediately and hire some people who understand the first thing about science.”
Everyone swore to stick with the agreement even if Trump didn’t.
"President Trump's decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement is an abdication of American leadership and an international disgrace,” said Sanders in a statement. “At this moment, when climate change is already causing devastating harm around the world, we do not have the moral right to turn our backs on efforts to preserve this planet for future generations. The United States must play a leading role in the global campaign to stop climate change and transition rapidly away from fossil fuels to renewable and more efficient sources of energy. We must do this with or without the support of Donald Trump and the fossil fuel industry.”