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  1. Opinion

Editorial: Under Trump, U.S. retreats on climate change, environment

As last week’s G-20 summit in Germany showed, President Donald Trump is increasingly isolated on the international stage. Instead of a leader, America under Trump is increasingly on the sidelines watching.
Published Jul. 12, 2017

President Donald Trump was scheduled to leave Wednesday night on his second European trip within a week. This is essentially a private visit at the personal invitation of French President Emmanuel Macron to enjoy Bastille Day. But as last week's G-20 summit in Hamburg showed, Trump is increasingly isolated on the international stage. Instead of a leader, America under Trump is increasingly on the sidelines watching.

In their final communique Saturday, leaders of 19 of the world's 20 biggest economies reaffirmed their commitments to address global warming, amplifying how fast and significantly the Trump administration has made the United States an outlier for its decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord. This was another setback for U.S. leadership and it compounds the damage Trump is causing with his backward environmental policy at home.

The statement by the Group of 20 and the adoption of an action plan for the 19 nations to meet their greenhouse gas emission targets was a victory itself, for it showed that the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris agreement would not scuttle the landmark accord. The leaders said they regarded the pact as "irretrievable," and while leaving a door open for Washington to return to the fold, they clearly framed the Trump administration as the sole major holdout in addressing man-made climate change.

With Trump resisting calls at home and abroad to be tougher on Russia, and to join Europe in expanding multilateral trade, the summit exposed sharp divisions between the United States and its postwar allies, and it showed a Europe more resilient and resigned to go it alone. Beyond the diplomatic niceties, Germany and France have signaled their intentions to depart publicly from Washington on a range of security and economic issues, from climate and trade to regional security. The meeting's host, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, opened the session by hailing the spirit of compromise but acknowledged: "We can also say we differ." Trump's complaint that the United States is taken advantage of in global trade deals and his seeming indifference to a strong, consistent embrace of NATO has made him a lone ranger within the alliance — and to America's detriment.

Nowhere is that more evident than on the issue of climate change. The leaders of France and Germany have used Trump's withdrawal as a rallying cry for energizing Europe. China, one of the world's heaviest polluters, responded to Trump's decision by positioning itself to become a world leader in clean-energy manufacturing and investment. For China, that will mean more jobs, expanded trade and newfound influence in the world. "Whatever leadership is," one French diplomat told the New York Times, "it is not being outvoted 19 to 1."

Trump's withdrawal from the global accord comes as his administration is seeking to reverse former President Barack Obama's environmental legacy on a broader front. In the four months that Scott Pruitt has headed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, he has moved to block, cancel or delay more than 30 environmental rules, a New York Times investigation found, a regulatory rollback that experts say is unprecedented in the agency's 47-year history. The agency is also moving to kill or weaken Obama's Clean Power Plan.

Trump is ceding America's clout on the international stage as other nations are filling the void, and he is shrinking from the environmental challenge at home just as cleaner energy promises to boost jobs, improve public health and reduce costs for consumers and businesses alike. The global community and major American corporations are right to recognize the Paris deal as a big step forward. The good news is other major players on the international front are not abandoning a key accord. But as the G-20 meeting showed, this is coming at a price to America's influence, among its allies and adversaries alike.

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