US President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate change agreement has some implications for the world and South Korea.
First, Trump again demonstrated that America under his presidency could abandon its global leadership in any critical global issue. It is indeed disappointing to see the leader of the most powerful country in the world so easily break away from an international commitment forged to fight one of the most pressing challenges facing mankind.
Moreover, the US is the world’s No. 2 emitter -- after China -- of greenhouse gases blamed for the rise of the sea level, bad weather and other environmental hazards.
That the nationalistic former real estate developer thinks of the climate change only from the perspective of dollars and American jobs means the world should be ready for the same American isolationism in other vital global issues.
It is in this context that the world should be ready to go ahead without the US in tackling many of its common problems. That should start with the efforts to preserve the Paris accord itself. It is fortunate in this regard that other sensible leading members of the 2015 agreement have reaffirmed their commitment to the accord.
Announcing the US withdrawal, Trump said that the agreement should either be renegotiated or pursue an “entirely new transaction on terms that are fair to the US.”
But Germany, France and Italy – issuing a joint statement -- rejected the proposal for a renegotiation. Countries like China and India also remain committed to the accord in which its 195 signatories promised to fight global warming by slowing the rise of the global temperature through curbing greenhouse gas levels.
So far, only Syria and Nicaragua have refused to commit to the accord, but more efforts must be exerted to prevent the exit of the US from affecting other countries or slowing the overall global efforts to fight global warming.
The South Korean government was well advised to express regret over the US decision. The Foreign Ministry issued a statement to criticize the US withdrawal from the accord for undermining the global solidarity to fight climate change.
It also was rightful for the ministry to reaffirm the Seoul government’s commitment to abide by its avowed road map for reducing greenhouse gases.
Under the Paris accord, Korea promised to cut greenhouse gas emissions 37 percent below the business-as-usual levels by 2030. It also launched a carbon emissions market to help meet the goal of reducing greenhouse gases.
The US decision to withdraw from the Paris accord should provide the new administration of President Moon Jae-in with a momentum to follow up on the commitment we made.
But there may be the need to fine-tune some detailed plans. For instance, President Moon Jae-in, responding to the growing public uproar against air pollution, ordered a temporary shutdown of some coal-powered electricity plants.
The liberal government also plans to reduce reliance on nuclear power plants, which means officials need to make a comprehensive review of the nation’s power supplies and how it will strike a balance between environmental protection and sustainable development of the economy.
One more challenge posed by the US withdrawal from the Paris accord is financing of the Green Climate Fund, which was established to help developing countries tackle climate change problems.
Trump said that the Paris accord is imposing “draconian financial and economic burdens” on the US and it will end its contribution to the GCF as well.
The GCF, headquartered in Songdo, South Korea, was established in 2010. The US, which pledged to provide $3 billion by the end of 2018, has contributed $1 billion. This means the fund’s 43 member states need to work out additional measures to make up for the shortfall to be caused by the US withdrawal.
Lastly but not the least, the unilateral way Trump abandoned the global climate accord should offer a lesson to Moon as the new South Korean president prepares for his first summit with the US leader later this month. The two are set to discuss sensitive issues such as an alliance against North Korea, deployment of a controversial US antimissile system here and the bilateral free trade agreement. Moon should not exclude the possibility that Trump may pitch “America First” in some of those issues.