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UW professor: Trump may have provided focal point for opposition

President Donald Trump speaks about the U.S. role in the Paris climate change accord. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

President Donald Trump’s decision to pull America out of the Paris Agreement is a big deal and will have major consequences for the nation, however, not in the ways many people expect, according to two experts at the University of Washington.

The move could serve as a catalyst for the opposition and help other countries rise to global leadership.

“Pulling out of the Paris accord by itself is going to have very little additional impact — either domestically or internationally,” said Nives Dolsak, associate director of the School of Marine and Environmental Affairs at the University of Washington.

“Domestically, because the president has already revoked and weakened the policies we adopted during the Obama administration,” she said. “But on the other hand, cities and states have already remained committed and would do so no matter what happens in the White House.”

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Internationally, Dolsak said, Trump’s move will likely serve to embolden a phenomenon of other countries taking the lead on global issues. She notes that China is emerging as one such leader. Europe is also rising to take charge.

But in the United States, as Dolsak said, local authorities remain committed to the Paris Agreement. UW Political Science Professor Aseem Prakash said that the withdrawal will help Trump look good among his corner of politics.

“His support among the core constituency is now strengthened because he delivered on a campaign promise,” Prakash said.

But there’s another side to consider.

“What is particularly interesting, this may provide the precipitating factor, the catalyst that would lead to mobilization (against Trump),” he said. “Opposition to Mr. Trump’s environmental policy was scattered. It was not focused on a particular issue. The Paris Accord will provide that focal point.”

That’s at least true when it comes to influencers like Republican Arnold Scharzenegger, who posted a video blasting Trump’s decision shortly after it was made. Leaders at the state level are also picking up where Trump dropped off.

“We are already seeing it. Our own governor has joined an alliance of states that as of this morning includes 12 states that are committed to the Paris Accord,” Prakash said. “Business leaders are now running as fast as they can to distance themselves away from this policy and are proclaiming, at every possible opportunity, a commitment to the Paris Accord.”

“It’s very curious politics that we don’t think we have seen historically, in terms of the magnitude and impact that it can potentially have in undermining and minimizing, and delegitimizing the role of the federal government in environmental policy,” Prakash said.

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