The announcement of Trump’s decision to withdraw the USA from the Paris agreement, foreshadowed by a number of internet sites over the last few days, arrived at 9 o’clock on Thursday night. Any faint hopes that the president might refrain from taking a step that many consider politically pointless and antihistorical were dashed.
Trump’s official announcement came at the end of a week that saw the president travel to Europe to take part in the G7 meeting in Taormina, on the fringes of which he met not only European leaders but also Pope Francis. It is interesting to note that it was also at the end of May—just two years ago, in 2015—that the encyclical Laudato sì was published, the most incisive philosophical, political and also spiritual document Francis has written to date. The text was based on the premise that the climate change we are now witnessing—combined with an economic model that concentrates wealth and mortifies the poor—is leading us to unprecedented environmental and social disaster. This is why the Pope urged international governance to undertake concrete actions to counteract a phenomenon caused by the world’s strongest economies. It is also why, at the time, he referred explicitly to the need for governments not to let the COP21 UN climate change conference in Paris in December 2015 pass by in vain, calling on them to transform it into an opportunity for a sharp turnaround from prolonged and harmful inaction. The appeal worked and Paris produced a programmatic accord, the first ever, that held most of the world’s states to account to limit temperature rises. It’s no coincidence that when they met last week, Pope Francis presented Trump with a copy of his encyclical—after first asking for the environment to be included as a point on the G7 agenda, that is.
Despite the Pope’s efforts, we can now say that any momentum, however slight, that may have been detectable following the Paris agreement has now come to an abrupt stop. Formally speaking, we are going back two years, but the mess is deeper than that. The fact is that we now have to figure out what future there can now be for shared action on the climate. At the moment, the prospective scenarios all look pretty dismal. Next week the G7 environment ministers will be meeting in Bologna: it will be interesting to see how much leeway for discussion they have and exactly what issues they touch upon. What is certain is that the United States will be the classic uninvited guest.
There are very few questions that science is united over but recognition of the fact that climate change is an effect of human actions on Planet Earth happens to be one of them. At a moment in time in which there is a huge need for political unity to address the challenge, Trump’s negationism is putting a time bomb under our feet and under the feet of our children. The hope now is that Europe, China and India will get together to shoulder the responsibility of guiding a still stronger, united and convinced response to show that something can still be done and that cooperation over the environment is not only feasible but also fruitful. Not forgetting that—a detail not missed by some US government advisors, alas unheeded—transition towards a green economy means jobs in innovative sectors, development in marginal areas and, last but not least, the pursuit of quality.
Today a new scenario is opening up in which leadership of what is going to be a central issue in the years to come needs to find a home, and fast. Let’s hope that happens, since our common home is currently revealing all too clearly the difficulties we are subjecting it to. Is Europe ready to close ranks?
Published on La Repubblica, June 1