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Why it’s a mistake to compare Trump’s Paris decision to Nicaragua’s

President Trump has decided to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement. Here's what you need to know. (Video: Daron Taylor/The Washington Post)

President Trump’s announcement Thursday that the United States would withdraw from the landmark Paris climate agreement unleashed a backlash on Twitter. Elon Musk said he would leave the president’s advisory council, while politicians and pundits framed the move as reckless by highlighting the two other countries whose leadership refused to sign the accord: Syria and Nicaragua.

The message was clear: The United States — once a world leader that sat at the front of the class — has relegated itself to the back of the room with the world’s perceived outliers.

Some commenters noted that even Uzbekistan, a onetime Paris holdout that is home to one of the worst ecological disasters on the planet, signed the climate agreement last month.

The problem with the comparison, and the implicit developed-world condescension it contains, is the glaring absence of context.

Syria didn’t sign the agreement because the country remains locked in a protracted civil war that the United Nations estimates may have displaced 12 million people and resulted in more than 250,000 deaths.

Meanwhile, Nicaraguan leaders said they declined to enter the Paris agreement not because they didn’t want to abide by new emissions standards but because those standards weren’t strict enough and didn’t require enough sacrifice from wealthier countries with larger economies, according to Reuters.

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At a U.N. climate meeting last year, Paul Oquist, head of the Nicaraguan delegation, also complained that the agreement restricted his country’s ability to litigate over climate disagreements.

“Nor is it either ethical or congruent to invoke human rights in the Agreement and, at the same time, to ask developing countries to renounce their legal rights, including the right to compensation for damages and the right to litigate over legal responsibilities,” Oquist said.

Meanwhile, the Central American nation of 6 million is en route to becoming a “green energy powerhouse,” according to NPR.

Blessed with 19 volcanoes, high winds and plenty of water, Nicaragua, for more than a decade, has been gradually transforming its economy to try to reduce its dependence on foreign oil, NPR reported. That dependence meant market fluctuations that led to 12-hour blackouts that paralyzed the country and brought the economy to a halt.

“The decision was made that we had to begin shifting toward renewable energy,” Gabriel Sánchez, who works for the business promotion agency ProNicaragua, told NPR. “A set of policies was put in place that would allow renewable energy projects to be developed in Nicaragua.”

By 2015, renewables were generating about half of Nicaragua’s electricity, but government officials say the number is on track to reach 90 percent by 2020, according to the World Bank. Renewables constitute 13 percent of the United States’ energy production.

“In the region, Nicaragua is second only to Costa Rica in terms of the share — 21 percent — of renewable, non-hydraulic energy in the region,” the World Bank reported. “The energy output of its geothermic resources is considered the best in Central America.”

As The Washington Post’s Chris Mooney and Brady Dennis reported Wednesday, “More than 190 nations agreed to the accord in December 2015 in Paris, and 147 have since formally ratified or otherwise joined it, including the United States — representing more than 80 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.”

“A U.S. withdrawal would remove the world’s second-largest emitter and nearly 18 percent of the globe’s present-day emissions from the agreement, presenting a severe challenge to its structure and raising questions about whether it would weaken the commitments of other nations.”

Whatever Trump decides on Paris, he’s already put the brakes on climate action

On Thursday, Trump said he would pursue a new climate deal.

“We’re getting out,” he said, “but we will start to negotiate, and we will see if we can make a deal that’s fair. If we can, that’s great. If we can’t, that’s fine.”

The president had argued that the Paris agreement would “punish” the United States and instituted “onerous energy restrictions” that would stymie U.S. economic growth, The Post’s Philip Rucker and Mooney reported.

At last year’s meeting, Oquist called upon developed countries to increase “their levels of ambition” for mitigating climate change for “future generations, Mother Earth and life itself.”

“Nicaragua will not sign the Paris Agreement and hopes that other countries will put pressure on the developed countries to increase their levels of ambition to avoid a world of 3°C which will lead to disastrous increases of 4°C to 6°C in developing countries,” he added. “This must be NOW, AS SOON AS POSSIBLE, since 2025 the Paris Agreement target is too late.”


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