Rejecting climate change agreement harms U.S. leadership, national security

President Donald Trump has decided to pull the United States out of the Paris Climate Agreement.

While members of the Trump team like Steve Bannon and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt likely expressed their vehement approval of this move, our own Sen. Bob Corker has been relatively supportive of maintaining the American commitment. “There’s really no obligation,” he said. “It doesn’t require us to do anything. I think they may take a little time to assess whether pulling out makes sense now.”

However, we should encourage Sen. Corker to realize that there is an obligation here — one to provide American leadership on the world stage and to protect the world that we will hand to the next generation — and it is an obligation worth fighting for and supporting every step of the way. This historic agreement is a critical step.

Make no mistake about it, the Paris Agreement is truly historic and represents the global shift that we as a nation demanded as far back as the 1990s with the Senate’s rejection of the Kyoto Protocol.

What was broken with Kyoto was largely realized in Paris. Paris finally brought together the biggest polluters in the world — the U.S., China and India — to first recognize the harmful consequences of unmitigated climate change and then to enact a plan to cut their emissions. The plan also stipulates that we will reconvene every five years to publicly disclose progress and update national targets.

As for American leadership, the United States was instrumental in bringing together and negotiating with nearly 200 countries in Paris for the 2015 U.N. Climate Change Conference, which culminated in the unanimous adoption of the Paris Agreement.

If we renege now on what strong U.S. leadership and hard-fought diplomacy crafted, we telegraph to the world that we are no longer interested in taking on our traditional role of rallying nations to the common cause of solving big problems — and that we are not firm on any commitments we make.

We would join the likes of Syria — is this a nation we want to regard as a global peer?

And maintaining our commitment to combating climate change is crucial both for protecting the world that we give to the next generation, and for protecting the very lives of our children and loved ones in uniform.

Climate change is a national security threat that our service members face every day, whether on the battlefields of the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa, or here at home when facing sea level rise at our coastal bases.

The Department of Defense even describes climate change as a “threat multiplier” because more frequent extreme weather events mean more requests for humanitarian aid, while increased droughts and resource shortages end up strengthening the very extremist groups our troops are fighting (consider the Syrian civil war, their decade-long drought and the rise of ISIS).

If we do not take steps to move away from fossil fuels of the past and toward clean energy of the future, we will only continue to make these problems worse.

Under the Paris Agreement, Sen. Corker is, for the most part, correct: The U.S. gets to set our own targets and paths to combating climate change. After all, no one abroad is mandating U.S. energy policy at home. This reflects our own conservative approach taken in the Clean Power Plan, which leaves pathways up to the states to find and exploit in full consideration of what is available.

Yet, this is not why we must maintain our commitment: We must stand by the Paris Agreement because it was forged from strong U.S. leadership and diplomacy on the world stage as well as from a great American vision of creating a better, safer world for our children. To do otherwise will only make us look weak and untrustworthy, and degrade us in the eyes of allies and foes alike.

Jonathan Gensler is a former U.S. Army captain and Iraq War veteran. He is a Security Fellow with Truman National Security Project and resides in Nashville. Views expressed are his own.

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