President Donald Trump is planning to pull the United States out of the Paris climate change agreement, a White House official said Wednesday morning — only to have Trump himself revive the suspense less than an hour later.
The withdrawal would fulfill a Trump campaign promise but would be certain to infuriate America’s allies across the globe. It would threaten to destabilize the most comprehensive pact ever negotiated to blunt the most devastating effects of climate change. And it would fly in the face of support the deal has drawn from a host of major business interests, including giant oil companies such as Shell and Exxon Mobil.
Intrigue surrounding Paris has accelerated in the past week, after Pope Francis and other world leaders pressed Trump during his European visit not to abandon the nearly 200-nation 2015 agreement. Administration officials said they are still sorting out the details of how exactly Trump would withdraw, and one noted that nothing is final until an announcement is made.
Trump declined to make it official, at least not yet. “I will be announcing my decision on the Paris Accord over the next few days. MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!” he tweeted Wednesday morning.
Asked later Wednesday whether CEOs and others are still trying to persuade him, Trump told reporters: “I’m hearing from a lot of people, both ways. Both ways.” He promised a decision “very soon.”
But reaction began pouring in Wednesday nonetheless, including a threat by Tesla CEO Elon Musk to stop participating in White House business councils if the president pulls out.
Axios first reported the news that Trump would withdraw.
Administration officials sent mixed messages on Wednesday, with some saying they are confident the president would pull out and others urging caution. But officials on both sides of the issue have become increasingly convinced he plans to exit the deal, despite arguments from moderate advisers like Trump’s daughter Ivanka that withdrawing would damage U.S. relations abroad. Others who have supported staying included Trump’s secretary of state, Rex Tillerson.
Prime supporters of leaving the deal, including senior White House adviser Stephen Bannon, argued that its terms would hobble the U.S. economy and Trump’s energy agenda.
Reaction from the international community Wednesday was swift, mostly without mentioning Trump by name. “Climate change is undeniable,” the United Nations tweeted from its official account Wednesday morning, quoting from a speech by Secretary General António Guterres. “Climate action is unstoppable. Climate solutions provide opportunities that are unmatchable.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief of staff expressed hope that the president could still be swayed. “As far as I can see, it is an ongoing debate within the administration,” Peter Altmaier said at a POLITICO Connected Citizens Summit Wednesday afternoon in Berlin.
In the U.S., conservative groups were preparing to celebrate.
“Au revoir to the Paris agreement indeed,” said Nick Loris, an economist at the Heritage Foundation, praising Trump for showing “resolute leadership.”
“Without any impact on global temperatures, Paris was the open door for egregious regulation, cronyism and government spending that would have been as disastrous for the American economy as it is proving to be for those in Europe,” Loris added.
But the watchdog group Public Citizen said Trump was committing an “epic blunder.”
“In an administration that seems incapable of doing much right, Trump’s stances on climate change and clean energy still stand out as exceptionally wrongheaded,” said David Arkush, managing director of the group’s climate program. “The U.S. already is suffering from the effects of global warming, and right now we are on course for catastrophic harm as soon as the second half of this century. At the same time, solutions are readily available.”
Meanwhile, the deal’s support from business leaders showed how the politics of climate change have evolved, as some multinational companies seek regulatory certainty while some start-ups see opportunities in a shift toward greener forms of energy. Nearly two-thirds of Exxon’s shareholders voted Wednesday to urge the company to incorporate the Paris deal in its business models, regardless of what the U.S. does.
One of the most outspoken responses to Trump’s expected decision came from Musk, whose electric-car, solar and battery initiatives aim to promote the move away from fossil fuels.
“Don’t know which way Paris will go, but I’ve done all I can to advise directly to POTUS, through others in WH & via councils, that we remain,” Musk tweeted. Musk followed up with a tweet saying, “Will have no choice but to depart councils” if Trump pulls out of the Paris deal backed by nearly 200 other countries.
Musk’s threat comes as the White House is trying to bring tech CEOs and other top executives to Washington on June 19 for a daylong summit on modernizing government technology.
Trump’s move would mark the second time in two decades that the United States has negotiated, signed but then spurned a major international climate pact following a change of party control in the White House. The previous occasion — the decision by George W. Bush to abandon the 1997 Kyoto accord negotiated by the Clinton administration — caused years of distrust of the U.S. in international climate circles.
Since then, climate scientists say, the problem has grown only more dire, with few years left for nations to act if they want to avoid the droughts, floods, famines, mass migrations and worsening storms that a changing climate would bring.
Only two countries declined to join the Paris agreement: Syria and Nicaragua.
Republican leaders in Congress had warned other countries before the Paris talks not to trust Obama’s promises, noting that a future GOP president could undo any commitments he made. The Obama administration had insisted that the deal’s carbon-cutting targets be nonbinding, avoiding the politically disastrous Senate ratification fight that a binding treaty would require.
It would take years for the U.S. to formally withdraw from the Paris deal. But the U.S. is the world’s second-largest carbon polluter, and its decision to walk away would threaten to weaken the resolve of major emitters such as China and India to keep their own pledges, even though both nations have pledged to remain in the agreement.
The move is certain to draw the ire of dozens of American allies who received assurances from the Obama administration that the United States was committed to the deal.
Wednesday’s news comes on top of separate steps by Trump to weaken the major domestic planks of Obama’s climate agenda, including Environmental Protection Agency regulations requiring cuts in greenhouse gas pollution from power plants.
Trump’s advisers have been — and remain — at odds over how the administration should approach Paris. Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, had pushed to stay in the deal, and Ivanka even brought Al Gore to Trump Tower to meet with her father in December. Gore spoke with Trump again this month in an effort to encourage the president to remain in the agreement.
Trump was also personally lobbied by world leaders at last week’s G-7 summit in Italy, and foreign diplomats repeatedly made their case for remaining in the agreement during frequent calls with administration officials.
Others in the “remain” camp included Tillerson, who had praised the Paris deal when he was Exxon Mobil’s CEO. During his confirmation hearing this year, he said the United States must keep “its seat at the table” for international climate talks.
But ultimately, Bannon and his allies in the White House appeared to win Trump over, arguing that the agreement wasn’t in the U.S. interest.
Even if the U.S. stuck with the deal, scientists and climate activists have warned that the targets Obama and other leaders promised in Paris wouldn’t cut enough carbon pollution to prevent the worst effects of climate change. Instead, they said, the signing nations would have to steadily escalate their commitments in coming years.
The agreement calls on countries to aim to limit global warming to “well below” 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit from pre-industrial levels, and it said countries should “pursue efforts” to keep temperature increases to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit. Under a business as usual scenario, global temperatures could rise by between 4.7 degrees Fahrenheit and 8.6 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century, according to the United Nations, an increase that would have catastrophic consequences.
U.S. greenhouse gas output has slid sharply in the past decade — a trend driven partly by increases in energy efficiency and a shift from coal to natural gas as a power source — and Obama had pledged to continue those reductions in the coming decade to meet the American commitments in Paris. Hillary Clinton had promised even steeper reductions.
Trump, meanwhile, vowed during the campaign that he would reverse Obama’s policies, lift restrictions on the energy industry and “save our wonderful coal miners.” Those pledges helped him win fossil fuel-producing swing states like Pennsylvania and Ohio.
Trump’s upcoming decision raises the prospect that other countries will move on without the U.S., lessening America’s influence. Indeed, the European Union and China are set to pledge deeper cooperation on the Paris agreement and the promotion of clean energy technologies, according to a draft leaders’ statement for an upcoming summit that was seen by POLITICO.
Maroš Šefčovič, the vice president of the EU’s energy union, said Thursday that Europeans will stick with their climate efforts regardless of what the Americans do.
“For Europe there is no plan B, because we do not have a planet B,” Šefčovič told reporters. “If they decide to pull out, this would be disappointing, but I really don’t think that this would change the course of mankind.”
Eric Wolff, Janosch Delcker, Kalina Oroschakoff and Anca Gurzu contributed to this report.
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