President Donald Trump announced Thursday that he will pull out of the Paris climate agreement, delivering the news in a Rose Garden speech loaded with the “America First” rhetoric of his presidential campaign.
Trump said he’d be willing to reenter an international climate deal if he could secure better terms for the United States — although France, Germany, Italy and the United Nations immediately poured water on the idea of renegotiating the nearly 200-nation Paris accord, and one European official called it a “Trumpian ruse.”
The president made it clear Thursday that he had no interest in remaining in a deal he considered harmful to the U.S., regardless of what the rest of the world might think.
“I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris,” he said to applause from the crowd, which included conservative activists who had pushed for him to exit the agreement.
Under the terms of the deal, the earliest the U.S. can formally withdraw is just after the next presidential election in November 2020. The United States would join Nicaragua and Syria, the only two countries that declined to participate in the agreement.
Trump’s words echoed the perspective of nationalists like chief White House strategist Steve Bannon, a major critic of the 2015 deal, and seemingly rejected the worldview of the president’s daughter Ivanka, who had worried that pulling out would harm U.S. international relations. The president, who once dismissed the idea of man-made climate change as a Chinese-inspired “hoax,” even seemed to suggest that the United States is a victim of a global campaign to harm America’s economy.
“The rest of the world applauded when we signed the Paris agreement,” Trump said Thursday. “They went wild, they were so happy, for the simple reason that it put our country — the United States of America, which we all love — at a very, very big economic disadvantage.
“A cynic would say the obvious reason for economic competitors and their wish to see us remain in the agreement is so that we continue to suffer the self-inflicted, major economic wound,” he added.
Criticism and expressions of dismay immediately poured in from the U.S. and around the globe, including from former President Barack Obama, who had made achieving a deal in Paris one of the prime diplomatic goals of his administration. Obama said Trump was the one delivering a bad deal for Americans.
“The nations that remain in the Paris Agreement will be the nations that reap the benefits in jobs and industries created. I believe the United States of America should be at the front of the pack,” Obama said in a statement. “But even in the absence of American leadership; even as this Administration joins a small handful of nations that reject the future; I’m confident that our states, cities, and businesses will step up and do even more to lead the way, and help protect for future generations the one planet we’ve got.”
Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) was much more blunt. “Dear Trump administration: Please stop doing insane things,” he wrote on Twitter. “Signed, Future Generations.”
Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Walt Disney CEO Robert Iger reacted by announcing they would quit participating in White House advisory councils if Trump withdrew. “Climate change is real. Leaving Paris is not good for America or the world,” Musk tweeted moments after Trump finished his speech. The leaders of other major tech companies, including Amazon, Google, Facebook, Microsoft and IBM, also expressed unhappiness.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement that Trump’s move left him “deeply disappointed,” adding: “Canadians know we need to take decisive and collective action to tackle the many harsh realities of our changing climate.” British Prime Minister Theresa May, who faces elections next week, similarly “expressed her disappointment with the decision and stressed that the U.K. remained committed to the Paris Agreement,” her government said in a statement after her own conversation with Trump on Thursday.
In France, French President Emmanuel Macron shifted to English in a televised address Thursday night to offer an oblique jab at Trump, saying, “We all share our responsibility: Make our planet great again.”
A White House readout of Trump’s conversations with May, Trudeau, Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said he had thanked them for their “frank, substantive discussions” on the issue. Trump also promised that the U.S. will be “the cleanest and most environmentally friendly country on Earth” under his presidency.
Back in the U.S., the governors of California, Washington state and New York announced Thursday that would form an alliance to take steps to meet the United States’ climate goals. The states make up about a fifth of the U.S. population and its gross domestic product.
“If the President is going to be AWOL in this profoundly important human endeavor, then California and other states will step up,” California Gov. Jerry Brown said in a statement.
Pittsburgh’s mayor slammed Trump on Twitter, despite the affection the president’s speech had expressed for the Steel City. “Pittsburgh stands with the world & will follow Paris Agreement,” wrote Mayor Bill Peduto, who had signed onto a letter last year urging Trump to remain in the deal.
But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), a frequent critic of what he called Obama’s “war on coal,” cheered Trump’s move as a long-awaited deliverance.
“By withdrawing from this unattainable mandate, President Trump has reiterated his commitment to protecting middle class families across the country and workers throughout coal country from higher energy prices and potential job loss,” McConnell said.
Trump’s address was peppered with several lines that delighted the crowd in the Rose Garden, along with sky-high estimates of the economic toll he said the U.S. would suffer if it remained in the deal. Those figures, including a prediction that U.S. gross domestic product would fall $2.9 trillion by 2040, were taken from a March study by NERA Economic Consulting that didn’t consider any economic benefits the country might gain from cleaner air, new jobs or reduced impacts from global warming.
In fact, Americans in 2015 spent the smallest share of their income on energy since the federal Energy Information Administration started tracking the number in 1992, even as energy-related greenhouse gas emissions have fallen since 2005.
Trump said he would also halt Obama’s promised payment of “tens of billions of dollars” to the Green Climate Fund, an international program aimed at helping poor countries cope with climate change. Obama actually pledged $3 billion, and the U.S. contributed $1 billion to the fund before he left office.
Trump argued that the Paris deal “punishes the United States,” calling it a “massive redistribution of United States wealth to other countries.”
Absent from the ceremony were three of the administration’s biggest advocates for remaining in the deal: Ivanka Trump, her husband Jared Kushner and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, another aide who favored staying, sat in the front row. Several Cabinet members also attended, including EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
In a briefing after the speech, senior administration officials would not say if Trump believes that human activity contributes to climate change. The president’s remarks speak for themselves, one official said, and called the question on his beliefs off-topic.
Trump is “sincere” about re-opening negotiations for a new or altered climate deal and is “very intent” in engaging in such negotiations, the aides said.
But foreign governments were quick to reject the idea that the Paris agreement, in which numerous countries made concessions to satisfy the domestic political considerations of the United States, is up for renegotiating.
“We deem the momentum generated in Paris in December 2015 irreversible and we firmly believe that the Paris Agreement cannot be renegotiated, since it is a vital instrument for our planet, societies and economies,” the governments of France, Germany and Italy said in a joint statement.
In a similar statement, the UN said that while it “stands ready to engage in dialogue with the United States government,” the Paris deal “cannot be renegotiated based on the request of a single Party.”
“This is a Trumpian ruse,” one European official told POLITICO. “Paris, in effect, took 20 years to negotiate and reflects a profound accommodation of U.S. demands for flexibility.”
Asked about the dim reaction from Europe, one administration official paused.
“There’s no question that other countries are going to want to sit down with us and discuss the potential way forward,” the official continued, before adding: “I don’t know what that’s going to look like.”
White House officials briefed conservative groups and congressional staff earlier Thursday about the details of the withdrawal, distributing talking points that bashed the deal. Officials said they will withdraw using the underlying terms of the deal, which means a formal exit probably could not occur until November 2020.
That date means that “Paris will be on the ballot” in 2020, Brian Deese, Obama’s former climate adviser, wrote on Twitter.
Drama over Trump’s decision escalated in recent weeks as Pope Francis and numerous world leaders urged him to stay in the deal, and as the agreement drew widespread support from U.S. businesses — from Apple, IBM and Tesla to oil and gas giant ExxonMobil.
One Trump adviser said dozens of people had tried to persuade the president to take a more moderate approach, such as establishing a commission to study climate change or launching a 90-day review period. But Trump kept coming back to the economy, saying the accord would kill American jobs and “these international agreements are not good for America,” the person said.
“You couldn’t talk him out of it,” the person said. “He thought it was a bad deal, and he said over and over, this is a bad deal. This hurts the economy. This is a bad deal.”
A slew of conservative activists attended the president’s speech, including Myron Ebell, a former member of Trump’s presidential transition team and staffer at the Competitive Enterprise Institute who rejects mainstream climate science, Heritage Foundation founder Ed Feulner and Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist.
A U.S. withdrawal will deal a severe blow to global cohesion on climate change at a time when scientists say the world has few years left to head off the worst impacts of warming temperatures and rising seas. U.S. intelligence and military leaders have described climate change as a security problem, warning it could cause mass migrations and inflame global conflicts.
“Eighty-three countries run into danger of disappearing from the surface of the Earth if we don’t resolutely start the fight against climate change,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said Wednesday as word of Trump’s expected decision began to leak.
Supporters of the deal also see economic opportunities in the shift toward energy efficiency and green energy, and accuse Trump and his team are squandering them. “What’s really stupid about it is they’re throwing out the economic opportunities that being part of the Paris agreement provide for the United States,” Hillary Clinton said Wednesday in an appearance at a tech industry conference. “That is what I find totally incomprehensible.”
In the run-up to the Paris conference, Obama had pledged that the U.S. would reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, largely by carrying out his policies of tightening regulations on power plants and vehicles while encouraging a shift toward greater reliance on wind and solar power. But the Obama administration had insisted those targets be non-binding, allowing the pact to avoid the Senate ratification requirement that doomed U.S. support for the 1997 Kyoto climate agreement.
Regardless of the fate of the Paris agreement, Trump has already moved to shelve the entirety of Obama’s domestic climate agenda, ensuring that the U.S. will most likely miss Obama’s targets.
Josh Dawsey contributed to this report.
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