Crises of climate accords

John F. Kennedy once stated that “in the Chinese language, the word ‘crises’ is composed of two characters, one representing danger and the other, opportunity”.

John F. Kennedy once stated that “in the Chinese language, the word ‘crises’ is composed of two characters, one representing danger and the other, opportunity”.

Though debunked by my professor 25 years ago while I was a student at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, in my opinion it is fitting that crises is the term that is being used these days to describe the current situation with President Trump pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement.


This recantation was after the historic treaty had been ratified by every country in the world except Syria and Nicaragua (which said it was not tough enough).


The tragedy of the commons is an economist’s parable that illustrates how a common area of grazing land that is surrounded by farms is quickly destroyed by irresponsible overgrazing. As each farmer profits personally by disrespecting nature through keeping too many animals and allowing his animals to overgraze the communal space.


The costs of these actions on the area that is owned by everyone becomes shared costs, so individuals become too short-sighted to act responsibly and they act selfishly in their own interest.  

Thus the tragedy is often cited as an example for the climate issues that face the world today, though it was hoped that global responsibility had reached new heights. The 2015 Paris agreement is a comprehensive climate accord that, while far from perfect, in an important step in the process.

So it is feared that the withdrawal of the leadership of the biggest influencer will be devastating for the pact.

Leaving was largely due to politicized economic reasoning by President Trump stemming largely from campaign promises by Trump to ‘make America great again’, and that implied the rebuilding of the lost jobs from the industrial heartland as well as other regions and industries that are in decline in America.

In the speech to withdraw, several reasons were cited: American workers in coal, steel, iron, and auto workers were all mentioned, reminiscent of campaign promises and rhetoric that are highly charged, but not based on reality.

The flawed reasoning that many disgruntled US voters bought into when voting for Trump was the assumption of a return to what was once a thriving industrial base built on an industry that had a competitive advantage over other countries.

As jobs declined due to offshoring of industry the assumption was that more protection and less competition would have retained those jobs and let industry thrive. However, the opposite would have happened if protection persisted as it would have interfered with the market and had the effect of creating an inefficient market with inferior products that would have failed globally, making the US even less competitive.

And, the paradox is that these recent actions are creating market conditions where the US is left behind, creating the opposite of its intentions.

Also proclaimed by the president in his speech was that it was the for (the US city) Pittsburgh and not Paris that he was voted in.’ Ironically, that city is pushing forward on a local level to keep climate change from getting worse.

The Democratic mayor tweeted out that he was re-affirming his position as head of the city in continuing the fight against climate change was a stark rebuke to Trump.

The fight to save the planet has continuously been championed by President Paul Kagame, with the October 13, 2016 meeting to halt CFC’s in Kigali.  While a tiny contributor to the overall global emissions and pollution, Rwanda continues to reduce its negative contributions.

The most effective solution to these problems will come from competition as private industry, alongside government programmes, creates profitable green energy that will move the world away from emissions and greenhouse gasses that are so damaging.

The solar field at Agahozo Shalom Youth Village sets a shining (figurative and literal) example of hope. After all, this is a country that is proving there is a decoupling of GDP growth and adding to emissions.

It is when clean energy is profitable on all levels, from micro to macro, that the shift away from dirty energy will take place efficiently, ensuring permanency without the need for coercive arrangements that become political.  

While China is currently the biggest polluter, the country that bears the brunt of responsibility for the global situation today is the one that just pulled out of the accord. The Chinese are committed to green energy and they are starting to lead in areas of alternative energy as both their private and public industry compete to find technical advantages.  

The US relinquishing its’ leadership is not only a potential opportunity for progressive countries, but it is also a duty.

Rwanda, having numerous programmes, from leading the world in banning plastic bags to insisting on cleaning the environment, is currently in a position of moral authority. That gives it a unique and valid voice of influence and a necessity to continue to keep pushing forward with this crucial issue.

That the US is on the wrong side of history has been declared rather vocally leading to divergent views on the future of the planet. The optimistic view of the future is that it’ll take a few years (as long as four) for the complete US withdrawal from the accord and within that time they will realise their error (or, they will become left so far behind and that it will not matter as much).

The other view is the pessimistic one: that it will be too late for humanity, and it is just too difficult to contemplate.

The writer is a Canadian scholar currently working as an associate professor at a university in Japan. He has conducted regular visits to Rwanda and has given talks at the University of Rwanda and at the Kigali Independent University.

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