The great director Alfred Hitchcock often spoke of the "MacGuffin," a plot device that appears to move the story forward but merely leads to a dead end. (Some enjoy eating them as red herrings.) Ivanka Trump is our most dangerous MacGuffin in the climate arena — the MacGuffin dressed in pearls.
Media reports have Ivanka Trump trying to convince her father to remain within the Paris climate accord. The minute you start thinking that Ivanka is having a moderating influence on her father, or that any of this is serious, stop. This is green-washing of the highest order, and Ivanka's so-called efforts to convince her father not to throw the historic accord out the window are unconvincing given the harsh reality: The Paris agreement does not require the United States to do anything. During the negotiations, it became clear that any treaty making binding demands of the U.S. would never pass the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate. Indeed, it was a Chinese negotiator, Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin, who informed the crowd of diplomats and journalists at a Paris press briefing, one day before the accord was signed in late 2015, that it was "domestic difficulties" in the U.S. that prevented a more muscular agreement. By "difficulties," all in attendance knew, he meant the Republican-controlled Congress. And that was before Donald Trump became president.
Confined within this political reality, then-President Barack Obama, along with the world, agreed to establish a voluntary set of emission goals, which signatories could accomplish in whatever way made the most sense for each individual nation. Anything stronger would have required Senate ratification. What that means in practice: 194 countries agreed to submit individual pledges to the United Nations to reduce emissions, and to check in regularly on their progress. For its part, the U.S. vowed to reduce emissions by 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels. Thus were born the climate initiatives launched by Obama in the following year.
In other words, all Trump has to do to undermine the Paris accord is to do nothing. There are no requirements to staying in — other than, ironically enough, the required four-year wait before a country may formally withdraw. And what Ivanka's father is already doing, in practice, already is withdrawing from the Paris accord: He's defunding the Clean Power Plan, reversed the vehicle rules requiring lower emissions from cars, and halted — it appears — the dispersal of $2 billion out of the $3 billion Obama committed to aid developing countries make the transition to renewables.
Ivanka's efforts to convince her father are a ruse. If she were serious, she'd be pleading with her father not to decimate the Environmental Protection Agency — as his proposed budget appears to do. That proposed budget includes cuts of 20 to 30 percent in funding for core enforcement and research, and proposes cutting the Office of Research and Development, which oversees most climate research, by 40 percent — a move, as Science magazine reports, that would cause the EPA's research capacities to "implode."
This administration is dropping a MacGuffin a minute. While we're watching Ivanka, the action is decisively shifting outward, to other countries, like China, for example, which is expected to invest hundreds of billions of dollars in renewable energy technologies, and jobs, over the next three years, while its use of coal plummets. In this country, cities and states have been carving out a parallel universe of climate initiatives while Washington falls apart. States including California, New York, and even Texas are showing steady increases in the use of renewables. Last week, the women mayors of 15 of the world's biggest cities — including Paris, Madrid, Washington, D.C., Sydney, Barcelona, Cape Town, Warsaw, and Bangalore — gathered in New York City to articulate their commitment to "low-carbon cities of the future." They're part of a larger global alliance of more than 90 cities, C40 Cities, collaborating on initiatives to shift away from energy sources reliant on fossil fuels. Ivanka Trump, according to a C40 spokesperson, was not scheduled to attend.
Pacific Standard is the award-winning magazine for readers interested in working toward forward-looking changes to private behavior and public policy. For more stories that matter, sign up for its email newsletter or subscribe now.