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Scientific groups disappointed in Trump's move on climate

U.S. president pledges to exit Paris Agreement

by Cheryl Hogue
June 1, 2017 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 95, Issue 23

Credit: AP
Trump made his announcement in the White House Rose Garden.
President Donald Trump speaking at a podium in the White House Rose Garden.
Credit: AP
Trump made his announcement in the White House Rose Garden.

Leaders from the chemical and scientific enterprises expressed disappointment that President Donald J. Trump announced he will withdraw the U.S. from a landmark climate change deal.

When countries completed the Paris Agreement on climate change in December 2015, chemists and other scientists were viewed as key actors in implementing it.

“Climate change represents a real and current threat to our economy, health, and welfare,” Thomas Connelly, CEO of the American Chemical Society, which said it was disappointed with the president’s plan. “America should continue to take the lead in addressing global greenhouse gas emissions and become a leader in sustainable energy production and technology,” Connelly adds. ACS publishes C&EN.

Moderna Therapeutics CEO Stephane Bancel said in a tweet he also was disappointed in Trump’s decision to leave the Paris deal. He added, “We all need to continue to do the right thing.”

Still, Trump’s move doesn’t seem likely to change the U.S. chemical industry’s current direction. “Chemical manufacturers will continue to meet global demand for materials and technologies that improve energy efficiency and reduce emissions,” the industry group American Chemistry Council said.

Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists called Trump’s move “reprehensible.” However, he added, “The clean energy revolution is well underway and can’t be halted by President Trump’s ill-informed choice.” And Rush Holt, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science “There is much the U.S. can do to address the risks that climate change poses to human health and safety, but disregarding scientific evidence puts our communities at risk.”

In his announcement, Trump said the 2015 Paris Agreement was less about climate change and more about other countries gaining an economic advantage over the U.S. “and laughing at us.” A senior White House official who spoke to reporters on condition that he not be named said the president was concerned about the impact of the pact on domestic manufacturing, including the chemicals sector.

Yet in a tweet just hours before Trump’s announcement, Dow Chemical urged the president to keep the U.S. in the climate deal. “You won the election with a manufacturing jobs agenda. If you want to create jobs in this sector, support the #ParisAgreement.”

The president said the U.S. will begin negotiations anew on a climate deal and invited Democrats, who he called obstructionists, to join in the work. “We’ll see if we can make a deal that’s fair,” one that protects the environment, U.S. companies, the American people, and the nation’s economy, Trump said.

Under the Paris Agreement, all U.N. countries except Nicaragua—which said the deal wasn’t tough enough—and conflict-plagued Syria pledged to limit their greenhouse gas emissions. The accord calls for countries to revisit their individual pledges every five years, with the hope that nations will adopt stricter limits as the price of cleaner energy technology drops.

The goal of the Paris accord is to keep global average temperatures to “well below” a 2 °C rise above preindustrial levels by 2100. The pledges in the agreement, however, would limit this expected temperature increase to 3 °C by century’s end.

Trump’s move is the latest in a series of actions to dismantle policies put in place by former president Barack Obama to address climate change, which Trump criticized during last year’s election campaign. Since taking office, Trump has issued directives to increase U.S. extraction of fossil fuels and proposed eliminating most federal research related to climate change, including advanced energy technology development and satellite observations.

He also ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to review, with an eye on overturning, Obama’s cornerstone action for meeting the U.S. commitments under the Paris deal, the Clean Power Plan. That regulation requires coal-fired power plants to reduce their emissions of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas emitted by human activity.

The U.S. won’t officially be able to get out of the Paris Agreement until November 2020. That’s because accord sets out a three-year process for withdrawal. But no country can give official notice of its intent to exit the pact until Nov. 4, 2017, exactly a year after the accord entered into force.



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