Donald Trump announced on Thursday that the United States would be withdrawing from the Paris Agreement on climate change, leading Israeli environmentalists to slam the president's decision as "irresponsible and selfish.”
While the decision is widely viewed as an enormous blow to environmental progress around the world, it was by no means unexpected. Already last May, Trump warned that if he was elected president he would cancel the Paris Agreement, a universal climate accord adopted by 195 countries in December 2015 at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change.
Signatories to the agreement, which officially came into force on November 4, determined that the global temperature rise must be kept well below 2°C by means of varying national targets.
Prior to Trump’s declaration on Thursday, National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Minister Yuval Steinitz pledged his commitment to the Paris Agreement targets regardless of Trump's expected announcement later that day.
"The Paris Agreement was a rare case in which the world was united, with the exception of Syria and Nicaragua, in a process of taking care of the wellbeing and health of future generations," Steinitz wrote on Facebook that afternoon. "It is important, even if there is room for updates and changes, that this historic move will not fail."
Former environmental protection minister Avi Gabbay, who signed the Paris Agreement on Israel's behalf during his tenure as minister, highlighted the potentially detrimental effects of a US withdrawal, a day ahead of the announcement.
"The climate agreement is not only an environmental matter for the long-term but also an economic and health matter for the short-term," Gabbay said on Wednesday night.
While expressing his criticism for the US, Gabbay, who is a candidate for Israel's Labor party, urged politicians at home to fulfill the country's climate commitments regardless of its ally's decisions.
Israel has committed to a 25% reduction in its 2005 greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 – limiting residents to 7.7 tons of carbon dioxide per capita. The government approved this goal as part of a larger program that also includes reductions in overall electricity and private car usage, as well as an increase in renewable energy production.
Ahead of Trump's announcement on Thursday, Prof. Yoav Yair, dean of the School of Sustainability at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya, described the president's expected decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement as "irresponsible and selfish.”
The decision, he explained, epitomizes at its core "a perception that is short-sighted and void of economic sense, which answers to the interests of oil and coal lobbyists in the US."
"The problem is that the rest of the planet's residents will bear the consequences of this lack of commitment to the agreement's targets," Yair said. "The governments of China, India and the European Union will take the lead in defending the planet, leaving the US outcast and ostracized, as a selfish country that alienates itself from signing international agreements."
Mor Gilboa, CEO of the nationwide student movement Green Course, described the Paris Agreement as nothing less than "the last hope of mankind in dealing with the climate crisis."
"Because of the enormous impact of the US economy, its withdrawal from the agreement impacts the entire world far beyond its political borders," Gilboa said. "In the dark world to which US President Donald Trump is dragging us, the hope and belief that this catastrophe can be stopped is disappearing."
Jonathan Aikenbaum, Greenpeace Israel campaigner, accused Trump of “taking his administration in the opposite direction of the rest of the world.”
“Trump’s attempt to sabotage the global transition to a safer clean energy future won’t succeed,” Aikenbaum said.
Although likewise criticizing Trump’s decision, climate policy consultant Naor Yerushalmi told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that not all hope was lost.
First of all, he explained, because the Paris Agreement is binding for several years, signatory countries cannot unilaterally leave the accord. Rather, they can simply choose not to fulfill their national goals, which for the first year or two will likely only impact the US itself, according to Yerushalmi.
At the same time, other top polluters like China and India are fulfilling their own climate targets much faster than expected, he said.
“So there is a chance that they will cover for all the loss we have on the American side,” Yerushalmi added.
Even within the United States, he continued, achieving climate targets still may be possible due to individual state decisions as well as steps taken by large corporations like ExxonMobil, which recently urged the president to remain a party to the Paris Agreement.
“The US is not only Donald Trump. California, for example, has its own goals,” Yerushalmi said. “We see that America is not only one voice, and we can see that with the recent decision of ExxonMobil.”
Likewise, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio already announced his intentions on Wednesday, ahead of the announcement, to sign an executive order maintaining the city's commitment to the agreement.
The president and his administration might be paving the way for a policy change, but a variety of other factors in the American economy will also remain influential, Yerushalmi explained.
"The economy and reality are moving faster than what Trump can change,” he said. "The strategy of the Paris Agreement will show to be stronger than the decision of Donald Trump. And even this decision won't represent the whole of the US."