President Donald Trump will pull the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement on climate change, making the nation one of only three in the world not a party to the agreement, joining Syria and Nicaragua.
While campaigning, Trump vowed to “cancel” the agreement, the first international climate agreement to include developing as well as developed nations, saying that it is a “bad deal” for the U.S.
However, since taking office, the president has had environmentalists on the edge of their seats, planning and then canceling meetings to discuss the agreement, setting deadlines to make his decision and then pushing them back.
During a June 1 event in the White House Rose Garden, Trump finally put the questions to rest. The U.S. is out. “In order to fulfil my solemn duty to protect American and its citizens, the U.S. will withdraw from the Paris climate accord, but begin negotiations to re-enter either the Paris accord or a really entirely new transaction on terms that are fair,” Trump said.
The announcement shocked few as several media outlets reported earlier in the week that Trump had made his decision to withdraw.
“It’s a disappointing and embarrassing day for the United States,” former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Gina McCarthy said. “This decision makes zero sense from a public health or an economic perspective. It’s contrary to science and his obligation to protect America’s kids and future generations. It’s contrary to investors and CEOs saying we need to lean in on climate action, not bury our heads in the sand; and it’s contrary to the vast majority of Americans calling for our country to do more.”
The Paris Agreement was adopted in December 2015 and entered into force less than a year later on November 4, 2016, just days before Trump’s election.
The agreement puts in place a framework under which nations are to pursue nationally determined emissions reductions goals. In its nationally determined contribution (NDC) the U.S. pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 26% to 28% below 2005 levels by 2025.
The Obama administration in negotiating the deal made sure that the NDCs would not be binding as it was nearly certain the Republican-controlled Senate would not ratify such an agreement and any agreement including legally binding targets and timetables would require ratification.
Taking into account the non-legally binding nature of the agreement, many of the nation’s largest businesses, interest groups, and policy experts have been trying to convince Trump that the U.S. has nothing to lose by remaining in the agreement.
In an April 26 letter to Trump, National Grid, Pacific Gas and Electric Co., and Schneider Electric, as well as BP, DuPont, General Mills, Google, Intel, Microsoft, Novartis Corp., Shell, Unilever, and Walmart, urged him not to leave the agreement.
“As businesses concerned with the well-being of our customers, our investors, our communities, and our suppliers, we are strengthening our climate resilience, and we are investing in renewables, efficiency, nuclear, biofuels, carbon capture, sequestration, and other innovative technologies that can help achieve a clean energy transition. For this transition to succeed, however, governments must lead as well. We urge that the United States remain a party to the Paris Agreement, work constructively with other nations to implement the agreement, and work to strengthen international support for a broad range of innovative technologies,” the companies wrote.
While Democrats are united in support for the agreement, the Republicans seem split, with several notable members of Trump’s own party calling for the U.S. to remain in the agreement.
In a Washington Post opinion piece, three former Republican Environmental Protection Agency administrators made a case for staying in the agreement and cut down Trump in the process. “With no seeming clue as to what’s going on, the president seems to have cast our lot with a small coterie of climate skeptics and their industry allies rather than trying to better understand the impact of increased greenhouse-gas emissions into the atmosphere. His policy of willful ignorance is a bet-the-house approach that is destructive of responsible government,” William Ruckelshaus, Lee Thomas, and William Reilly wrote.
In a May 31 article in the New York Times, Nicholas Burns, former under secretary of state during the George W. Bush presidency underscored the diplomatic implications of withdrawing from the agreement. “From a foreign policy perspective, it’s a colossal mistake — an abdication of American leadership,” he said. “The success of our foreign policy — in trade, military, any other kind of negotiation — depends on our credibility. I can’t think of anything more destructive to our credibility than this.”
Taking the other side of the argument, a group of 22 Republican Senators sent Trump a letter May 25 calling on him to abandon the agreement. Staying a party to the Paris Agreement would make it possible for environmental groups to sue the government as it tries to dismantle other parts of the Obama climate legacy, the letter suggests. “It is clear that those advocating for greenhouse gas regulations will use the Paris Agreement as a legal defense against your actions to rescind the Clean Power Plan if you decide to remain in the Paris Agreement. This is why it is so important for you to make a clean exit from the Agreement.”
Until recently, it was believed that Trump would decide what to do about the agreement before or during the G7 Summit, held May 26–27 in Sicily. It soon became clear that a decision would not be made at that time, as Trump informed the world via Twitter.
I will make my final decision on the Paris Accord next week!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 27, 2017
Reports quickly surfaced that, in spite of a push by G7 members to convince Trump to keep the U.S. in the agreement, his decision would be to leave it. On May 31, CNN reported that “two senior US officials” had confirmed that Trump would withdraw from the agreement, as the President again tweeted of an impending decision.
I will be announcing my decision on the Paris Accord over the next few days. MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 31, 2017
It remains uncertain how exactly Trump plans to pull the U.S. out of the accord. It appears that to do so, the president has two options. He can initiate the withdrawal procedure included in the agreement, which would take three years to take effect. Alternatively, he could withdraw the U.S. from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the treaty under which the agreement was struck. The UNFCCC was ratified by the Senate in 1992.
—Abby L. Harvey is a POWER reporter.