Opinion: Why Trump's move to pull the US out of the Paris Agreement won't end in disaster

David Frame is a world-leading climate scientist at Victoria University. Here's why he thinks Donald Trump's move to pull the US out of the Paris Agreement isn't the end of the world.

OPINION: The United States flip-flopping on climate change is nothing new. The US had a very strong role in designing and drafting the Kyoto Protocol, and then failed to ratify it.

The world has grown accustomed to America's peculiar internal politics on climate change, and the flexibility the Paris Agreement gives to countries is less vulnerable than the previous agreement to these sorts of convulsions.

Climate change deniers will be replaced

In the long-run, US defection changes little. Many states within the union will innovate anyway, and even a business-as-usual scenario in the US implies emissions reductions as natural gas displaces coal. A tailwind from climate-friendly policies would help considerably, and that may well eventuate within the next decade as the generation of Republicans who are truly are wedded to climate inaction are replaced by younger and better-informed politicians.

Leave it to the kids

Young people know that it's in their self-interest to support climate policy. There is increasing evidence that action on climate change is in the interests of today's young people; this is reflected in their voting patterns.

Over time, political preferences tend to mirror the interests of the different generations, and given the vast and growing evidence that climate change is a global risk, it's extraordinarily unlikely that climate inaction will be a sustainable policy.

Innovation will happen regardless

Technological advancement and entrepreneurs will find solutions. In the long-run, climate policy will have been a (relative) success when net global emissions of carbon dioxide are zero. As long as we are not at that point, and as long as the costs of further warming outweigh the benefits of further emissions, there are incentives to keep working to find technologies that allow human beings to flourish without doing damage to the climate and the environment. In the long-run, we expect these incentives to keep spurring low-carbon innovation.

The US is just one country

The actions of one Government aren't enough to stop progress. Innovation and entrepreneurship are the key to successful climate outcomes. Government policy can help this along by sending encouraging signals, or it can hinder it by subsidising polluting industries, but ultimately the policies in one jurisdiction do not alter the incentives to innovate in other jurisdictions.

As long as there are rewards - economic, environmental and social - to innovation, we can expect clever young engineers, technologists and entrepreneurs to keep working on the problem.

Dave Frame is a scientist at Victoria University's School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences.

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