The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

This is what the U.S.’s new global isolation on climate change looks like

Environment Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt sits at the roundtable at the opening of  the Group of Seven summit on the environment, in Bologna, Italy, on Sunday. (Giorgio Benvenuti/ANSA via AP)

Now that the Trump administration has withdrawn from the Paris climate deal, we’re starting to see concretely what that means on the world stage.

In particular, it seems to suggest the United States is increasingly isolated as other nations reiterate their commitment to climate action in group statements and the United States, via footnote, says it isn’t part of all that.

In a meeting of Group of Seven environment ministers in Bologna, Italy, the Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt, declined to “join” large sections of the communique.

That includes a full 18 paragraphs on climate change, and another eight on multilateral development banks (which fund climate initiatives around the world).

“The United States will continue to engage with key international partners in a manner that is consistent with our domestic priorities, preserving both a strong economy and a healthy environment,” a footnote in the document says. “Accordingly, we the United States do not join those sections of the communiqué on climate and [multilateral development banks], reflecting our recent announcement to withdraw and immediately cease implementation of the Paris agreement and associated financial commitments.”

The paragraphs were endorsed by environmental ministers of the host nation Italy, Japan, Canada, Britain, France, Germany and the European Commissioners.

The text affirms the importance of the Paris deal, the urgency of holding the planet’s warming below 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, the vulnerability of small island nations and least-developed countries, and more.

But the United States pointedly did not sign on.

“They’re now taking a position that for any kind of multilateral statement relative to climate, they’re taking the approach that they took at the G-7 meeting, which is to just stay out of it,” Andrew Light, a senior fellow at the World Resources Institute, says of the statement.

It’s understandable, perhaps, that having just pulled out of the Paris agreement, the United States would not endorse statements that sing its praises and call for its implementation.

But by withdrawing its assent from the entire section on climate change, the United States also did not endorse the relatively uncontroversial Kigali amendment to the Montreal Protocol, which aims to reduce the use of hydrofluorocarbons or HFCs, which are used in air conditioners and other industrial products and also drive climate change. Nor did it endorse efforts by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to cut emissions from the global aircraft fleet.

The EPA did not immediately respond to a request for comment about whether the document means the United States is pulling back its support for the Kigali amendment or ICAO.

And it’s important to underscore that a non-endorsement of a Paris-infused G-7 statement may not represent an out-and-out new policy on any of these areas.

But it does reflect an overall tone, with the United States distanced from other nations on an entire menu of items.

“I think it indicates that they’re pulling back pretty broadly on the climate front,” said Alden Meyer, who directs policy and strategy at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The 18 paragraphs also suggest that it is important to listen to the best evidence on climate change. “We support an interactive evidence-based dialogue drawing on the best available science, including reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the sharing of experience and best practice as well as expertise from United Nations institutions and intergovernmental organizations,” the communique states.

Under Pruitt, the EPA has taken down an extensive informational website dedicated to climate change that cited the IPCC to support the conclusion that global warming is predominantly caused by humans.

Up next is the G-20 meeting in Germany in July. And that’s where things get interesting — will the United States abstain on climate change again, but this time not with Pruitt on stage but rather with President Trump there?

“The next big one is the G-20,” Light said. “At this point, if you know the U.S. is going to abstain from everything, then you want as big a possible a group of leaders or countries to sort of isolate the United States on this.” Light pointed out that with a German election coming, Angela Merkel “needs some sort of win on climate change at the G-20.”

So perhaps the United States will be a footnote again. The number of paragraphs remains to be seen.