If the president won't move the U.S. forward, we will

The final scene of the reality show that was President Donald Trump's deliberations on the Paris climate agreement has aired. He is pulling the United States out. This decision represents a self-inflicted wound to the competitiveness and international standing of the U.S., threatening to move America from first to last. The Paris Agreement will survive, but will the U.S. economy?

The decision to withdraw has been made on the pretext of jobs and competitiveness, but the facts don't bear out the conclusion reached. The 21st century economy is being defined by the response to climate change and the jobs that will follow. Profound shifts in the global economy are already evident, led by burgeoning clean energy markets and technological innovation. In the U.S., we have seen dramatically decreasing costs translate to record amounts of renewable generation, with $380 billion invested in clean energy since 2010. This investment has resulted in some 570,000 jobs — more than double the number of jobs in fossil fuels.

President Trump is turning his back on this vibrant and growing renewables market to champion coal, whose sum total of 65,000 jobs in the U.S. will continue to shrink regardless of this decision. This will not be at the hand of "excessive regulation" but the very market forces driving investment in clean energy.

The president is turning away as everyone else aggressively leans in, with renewable energy markets in the developing world flourishing. China has surpassed the U.S. to become the leader in clean energy investment and will spend more than $360 billion over the next four years to cement this position. India invested close to $10 billion in 2016 and is targeting 175 gigawatts of capacity by 2022. By walking away from Paris, the U.S. dealmaker-in-chief has essentially guaranteed that a greater percentage of these investments will be made by non-American companies using non-American workers.

Not content with merely undermining the United States' competitiveness in the 21st century economy, the president has also isolated the U.S. geopolitically. The Paris Agreement is remarkable for the levels of support it has achieved in record time, with 195 countries signing, 147 parties already having ratified, and it entering into force less than a year after adoption. Within this framework for economic and strategic cooperation we see virtually all countries, including all of the world's fastest growing economies.

On the outside is an odd bunch. Having snubbed the G7 group of the world's largest economies and democracies on his first international trip, President Trump has now created his own G3: the U.S., Syria, and Nicaragua. If the goal was to isolate the U.S. from the global community and the geostrategic center of gravity in the world, the president could find no better issue on which to stake his go-it-alone agenda.

And alone he will be. The rest of the world is not waiting for — nor dependent on — the leadership of the U.S. administration. While the president spent the week tweeting angrily at Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel was enhancing ties with India on clean energy and sustainable development. China and the European Union are moving to adopt the most comprehensive bilateral agreement on climate change in their history. And Canada, China and the European Union are joining forces to advance the agreement absent the U.S.

The administration and 22 Republican senators have claimed they want to, and can, keep a "seat at the table" even while pulling out of Paris. In fact, the U.S. won't be at the tables that matter — not the negotiating table, nor the deal-making tables.

So what happens now? Quite simply, American democracy kicks into gear. In the coming days, an unprecedented coalition of business, private finance, state and local officials, and academic and civil society institutions, will be declaring their intentions and commitments to move the United States forward, with or without the president. While some of these actors have been mobilized in support of Paris for some time, the coalition has been supercharged by the precipitous withdrawal of the federal government. In this regard President Trump may have unwittingly done more to advance the scale, scope and speed of the inevitable transition to a cleaner, lower carbon U.S. economy.

Robert C. Orr (rorr1@umd.edu) is dean of the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland.

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