MARRAKESH, Morocco, (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The United States would become “a kind of rogue country” if it pulls out of an international agreement to combat global warming, leaving the world more vulnerable to droughts and other climate extremes, warned Mary Robinson, a former Irish president and human rights advocate.
“It would be a tragedy for the United States and the people of the United States if the U.S. becomes a kind of rogue country, the only country in the world that is somehow not going to go ahead with the Paris Agreement,” Robinson said in an interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Sunday.
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, a Republican, has promised to pull the United States out of that global climate accord, which was agreed last year by 193 countries and which came into effect earlier this month, just in advance of his election.
The deal aims to hold climate change to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius of warming by moving the world economy away from fossil fuels.
The agreement provides for $100 billion a year in international funding from 2020 to help poorer countries develop cleanly and adapt to the already inevitable impacts of climate change.
Robinson, who now runs a foundation focused on seeking justice for people hit hard by climate impacts despite having contributed little to the problem, said she was confident other countries would continue their backing for the accord regardless of any action taken by the United States.
“I don’t think that the process itself will be affected (if) one country, however big and important that country is, decides not to go ahead,” she said on the sidelines of U.N. climate talks in Marrakesh, due to end on Friday.
But a pullout could mean a “huge difference” to already difficult efforts to gather enough international finance to help poorer countries develop their economies without increasing their emissions, “which is what they want to do”, she said.
“The moral obligation of the United States as a big emitter, and a historically big emitter that built its whole economy on fossil fuels that are now damaging the world – it’s unconscionable the United States would walk away from it,” she said of the threat to withdraw from the Paris deal.
However, Robinson said she sympathised with Americans who had lost their jobs in polluting industries such as coal, many of whom supported Trump in his election campaign.
“Clearly they’re hurting at the moment,” she said, calling for assistance to help such workers retrain and win new jobs in a clean energy economy.
“But it’s not a future to go backward into coal and have higher emissions in the United States,” she warned. “The impact of that will be felt by poor communities and poor countries all over the world.”
As a U.N. envoy for El Nino and climate change, she said she had been in dry regions of Honduras where women told her they no longer had water as a result of worsening drought.
“I saw the pain on the faces of those women. And one of the women said to me, and I’ll never forget, ‘We have no water. How do you live without water?’ … I’m hearing that all over the world,” she said.
If the United States backs away on adopting clean energy, it also would be handing China the leadership role in a key new industry, she said.
“That’s not what so many states, businesses, cities and academic communities and local communities want in the United States,” she said.
She urged Americans upset about the proposed changes in U.S. policy to make their voices heard.
“People in the United States have to get up and make a big noise, and business in the United States has to make a big noise about this,” she said.