Travis N. Rieder, Research Scholar at the Berman Institute of Bioethics, Johns Hopkins University
Like many, I have worried ever since the 2016 election that this day would come – that Donald Trump would formally announce his intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. As an ethicist, I have been occupied by a very particular question, which is whether withdrawing from the agreement, itself, matters morally.
Some have suggested that the policies to lower emissions matter, not the agreement to enact such policies. If Trump has no intention of holding up America’s end of the deal, then does the actual withdrawal from the agreement make a difference? I think that it might, because staying in the agreement and going through the motions (but failing) means something fundamentally different from formally withdrawing.
Presumably, many countries will fail in their climate obligations at one time or another. Other parties to the agreement will have the opportunity to admonish them for this failure, and to work together to form a new plan that is more likely to succeed.
But, announcing America’s intention to withdraw from the agreement sends a clear message to the rest of the world that the second-highest emitting nation has no intention of doing its part to save the world’s most vulnerable people from impending harm. Indeed: The U.S. government takes the problem so unseriously, and values the lives of those at risk so little, that it will try desperately to undermine the already far-too-modest climate actions that the Obama administration set in motion.
The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.