Will Trump's move on Paris deal send Texas into climate backslide?

SMU experts express doubt over the impact of President Trump's decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate agreement.

By Jill Cowan
Economy Writer
The Dallas Morning News 

President Donald Trump on Thursday pulled the U.S. out of the landmark Paris climate accord — a move that, in spite of little immediate impact on the economy, could have significant geopolitical consequences, experts said.

Withdrawing from a nonbinding agreement endorsed by close to 200 nations, including China and India, is a bad look for a global superpower, observers said.  And China, they say, would be happy to make the case for itself as an environmental leader in America’s stead.

“This move by Trump is another example of how willing he is to throw the global playbook — mostly written by the U.S. since 1945 — out the window,” said James Hollifield, director of SMU’s Tower Center and a Wilson Center Global Fellow. “Gone are the days when the U.S. would take the lead in pursuing global public goods.” . . . 

Well, experts say the move’s actual impact on day-to-day business dealings will probably be minimal.

“I look at it this way: Carbon emissions have been falling in the U.S. for the last 20 years, not so much because of regulations at the state and federal level but because we’ve been substituting coal power,” said Bernard Weinstein, associate director of SMU’s Maguire Energy Institute. “It’s been a boon to the economy, and it’s largely been responsible for the decline in carbon emissions.”

As in many industries, a decline in coal energy has little to do with the United States’ participation in an international agreement to try to tackle climate change, Weinstein said.  It’s just economics.

Coal jobs have been eliminated by automation. And the rise of fracking means that natural gas — a cleaner fuel source — is cheap.

The decision to pull out of the accord, which can’t officially take place until years from now, won’t reverse that momentum, Weinstein said.

“It might keep some of our coal plants open a little longer, but the shift to natural gas has been underway,” he said. “And I don’t think anybody is planning to build a coal plant in Texas.”  . . . 

In any case, said Mike Davis, an economics professor at SMU’s Cox School of Business, it seemed unlikely that the U.S. would meet its stated carbon emission goals.

“To achieve the emissions standards would be incredibly expensive,” he said. “Given my view that Paris was never going to be something we take very seriously anyhow, whether we give up the pretense doesn’t seem to make a big difference.”

Davis couldn’t say whether Trump’s decision to have the U.S. join Syria and Nicaragua as the only nations not to participate in the accord would affect American companies’ ability to do business abroad.

“Are people telling me that other countries are going to quit buying Boeing airplanes or Caterpillar tractors because of something Donald Trump did with an agreement we weren’t going to honor anyway?” he said. “I tend to believe that business decisions, especially the big, high-dollar business decisions are going to be driven by more than the idea that the U.S. is a bully and a jerk.”

Read the full story from The Dallas Morning News.