President Trump listened to many people inside the Republican Party as he decided to withdraw the United States from the Parris Agreement – the international agreement where all countries proposed their own plans for their emissions reductions. One voice was Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., who signed a letter urging the president “to make a clean exit from the Paris Agreement.”
Tillis argued that the most important aspect of the Paris Agreement is a possible link to the Clean Power Plan, which President Trump is rescinding. Tillis requested that the United States remove the ineffective actions designed to address climate while not taking steps toward solving the issue. This is similar to repealing ObamaCare before legislating a replacement (or even designing a replacement); or repealing taxes on wages, interest and corporate earnings before redesigning the tax code to still have money to fund our government. In contrast, the CEOs of 30 large international corporations doing business in the United States publicly asked Trump to stay in the Paris Agreement.
It is not a conservative position for Tillis to ignore widely validated science showing links between carbon dioxide emissions and a gradual warming of the earth’s surface; and between this warming and rising sea levels. More than 900,000 N.C. residents live in a county that borders the Atlantic Ocean. The fabric of their lives is often shaped by the coast, as well as the financial well-being of their communities, which depend on property tax revenue from valuable land along the coast. By simply ignoring climate change and allowing for sea level rise to accelerate with no plan to address carbon dioxide emissions, Tillis fails to represent the interests of N.C. residents or protect property rights from impacts caused by the rest of the world as we continue to use fossil fuels to power our lives.
To address carbon dioxide emissions, we need international agreements so all countries work together. If the United States unilaterally reduces its greenhouse gas emissions and other countries do nothing, we will have failed. The way we work with other countries in the world is through negotiating agreements. These negotiations are currently carried out through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which was negotiated in 1992 by George H.W. Bush’s team. Since that time, under Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama and now President Donald Trump, the United States has been a part of these negotiations. Under the Paris Agreement, each country developed their own non-binding path forward for their future greenhouse gas emissions. Now, supported by Tillis, the United States has indicated it is not interested in international negotiations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
It is important for the United States to continue to reduce emissions. And it is important for the United States to participate in international negotiations to reduce global emissions. The Paris Agreement was signed by 197 countries in 2016, and it has been ratified by 145 of those countries, including the United States. It is now on Tillis to present his replacement. What is his plan now that he has successfully argued for the United States to withdraw from the international agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions? Repeal and replace – don’t just repeal existing climate policy and pretend the issue is resolved.
Tolbert is a Republican and an environmental scientist residing in Buncombe County.