It took less than a year for one of the world’s most powerful — and most polluting — countries to cause a major hitch in the Paris climate agreement, also known as the Paris Accord. Last year, 195 countries committed to the groundbreaking and revolutionary agreement to reduce greenhouse emissions in an effort to keep global temperatures from rising 2 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. But last Thursday (June 1), President Donald Trump announced from the White House Rose Garden that the United States would no longer participate in the agreement — a move that shouldn’t be much of a surprise, as he repeatedly expressed his intention to withdraw from the accord while campaigning last year.
As it became clear Trump intended to follow through on his pledge, hundreds of American companies urged him to reconsider. After his announcement, government officials at the city and state levels responded with unity pledges and commitments to continue efforts to mitigate the rise of global temperatures. Some of the country’s top business leaders also weighed in with their opinions on the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw. “Am departing presidential councils. Climate change is real. Leaving Paris is not good for America or the world,” Tesla’s founder Elon Musk wrote on Twitter. Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Iger followed Musk’s example; Apple CEO Tim Cook echoed the sentiment, writing on Twitter, “Decision to withdraw from the #ParisAgreement was wrong for our planet. Apple is committed to fight climate change and we will never waver.” Michael Bloomberg promised that Bloomberg Philanthropies will foot the $15 million the U.S. will no longer give to the United Nations as part of the agreement.
Meanwhile, some natural allies of Trump’s distanced themselves from the president’s decision. Big oil and automobile companies like ExxonMobil, Chevron, and General Motors re-emphasized their commitments to the Paris Accord, and even Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein chimed in against the move, breaking six years of Twitterverse silence with his first-ever tweet: “Today’s decision is a setback for the environment and for the U.S.’s leadership position in the world. #ParisAgreement.”
PUSHBACK FROM ELITE U.S. B-SCHOOL PROGRAMS
Voices out of the most elite U.S. business schools also had strong — and scathing — opinions on the president’s decision.
“I am thoroughly disappointed with the lack of leadership at the very highest level of our country,” Robert Strand, the executive director of the Center for Responsible Business at the University of California-Berkeley Haas School of Business, wrote in an email exchange with Poets&Quants. “History will judge this administration harshly for this very wrongheaded decision. However, I am emboldened by the efforts of business leaders, city mayors, and countless others that include our bright students who are taking action to fill this void of climate change leadership this President has created.”
Strand’s colleague, Faris Natour, added that “climate change is a human rights issue and when government puts human rights at risk, it is even more important for business to lead.” Natour, who leads the Human Rights and Business Initiative within the Center for Responsible Business at Haas, added, “It was great to see many of the leading American companies, including Microsoft, Google and Mars, step up today and reaffirm their commitment to the Paris Accord and the global effort to prevent catastrophic climate change.”
Disappointment wasn’t the only reaction. Frustration was fairly well represented, too. Andrew Hoffman, a professor of sustainable enterprise at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, was one of many who expressed frustration with the president.
“I was very frustrated to listen to the litany of data that he presented. He was talking about jobs lost and shutting factories and industries devastated by 2040. And that’s really, really sketchy data,” Hoffman says, noting that projecting economic trends out to 2040 in itself is “quite a feat” and Trump’s decision seemed to be based upon of “skewed” pieces of information.