In June of 2017, American President Donald Trump announced that the USA would be leaving the Paris Climate Agreement. The Agreement’s primary goal, among others, is “ to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.” The leaving of the Agreement is set to be finalised by November 2020, making the United States the only country in the world to not be a part of the pact.
Ethics is first and foremost involved with interaction between people. It is morally reasonable to say that people have a certain responsibility to protect the environment. The idea that the environment has an intrinsic value is known as biocentrism. If we pollute the environment and burn fossil fuels at the rate we are doing today there may be severe consequences for people in the future, a prediction that is supported by many climate scientists. Furthermore, the widespread use of fossil fuels in the United States will cause future resource shortages and lead to price increases that will reduce intergenerational justice and harm the interests of some developing countries.
As possibly the most powerful country in the world, the United States of America could be said to have a responsibility to lead the world by example. Virtue ethics is a form of normative ethics that base morality on virtues such as fairness, self-control, generosity etc. If you were to use the framework of biocentrism and virtue ethics together, the USA leading the world in its pursuit of protecting the environment seems to be the morally righteous thing to do.
Staying in the Paris climate accords could also serve the USA’s self-interests. The United states is a country with many potential enemies, as can be seen with its dealings with countries such as North Korea and Russia. The Paris Climate Agreement can be used as a building block to build up diplomacy with these countries and help with the building of more positive relationships with other countries.
Staying in the Accords could be seen as the most Utilitarian thing to do. Utilitarianism is the thinking that whatever increases happiness for the most amount of people is the morally right thing to do. A recent poll found that 7 out of 10 Americans would like the US to participate in the Paris agreement. President Trump is meant to be the representation of the US people and leaving the Paris Climate Agreement would be against the will of those very people.
So why leave the Paris Climate Agreement at all? President Trump in a press conference claimed that ‘The Paris Climate Accord is simply the latest example of Washington entering into an agreement that disadvantages the United States to the exclusive benefit of other countries’. After the US announced its withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, various circles stated that the US did not take a more proactive role in the climate change fight as the country with the second greatest emitters of carbon dioxide and the highest carbon emissions per capita. President Donald Trump alluded to a published report that predicted that the climate pact would result in “as much as 2.7 million lost positions by 2025,” of which 440,000 would be in assembly. By 2040, he said, the losses could inflate to 6.5 million mechanical occupations, or $3 trillion in lost financial yield, or about $7,000 in reduced income per household. Trump characterized the agreement as an economic straitjacket that would be a burden upon the American people by restricting the coal industry, choking out development and redistributing jobs and riches from the United States to its rivals. It is true that as one of the richest countries in the world, the USA has nothing to gain economically by partaking in the Agreement. It seems that if the US were to put their own citizens’ economic interests first, the climate accords are detrimental.
It could be argued that the Paris Climate Agreement is undemocratic. The agreement was never voted on by the US public, and caused the US government to align with the Agreement’s policies no matter what party was in power, effectively making the Accords “hard-wired” into US policies and beyond the influence of American voters. Under the Obama administration, many unbinding promises were made for the sake of the Accords, which the US is under a lot of pressure to uphold even now, 3 years after his presidency ended. President Trump was democratically voted by the people of the US, and as he represents the will of the US people, it could be said that the US has democratically decided that it is in their interests to leave the Paris Climate Accords.
On initial inspection, the US leaving the Paris climate accords may seem like an entirely immoral and unethical thing to do. After analysing both sides, however, it is clear that there are good ethical reasons for both staying and leaving the agreement. With the USA’s presidential elections being so soon, it is questionable whether Trump’s decision will even be executed on in the long term. Whatever the case, only time will tell the ramifications of the USA’s decision to leave the Paris Climate Accords…