US prepares to officially withdraw from 2015 Paris Climate Agreement

In this photo taken on Sept 23, 2019, US President Donald Trump exits the Climate Action Summit at the UN headquarters in New York.
In this photo taken on Sept 23, 2019, US President Donald Trump exits the Climate Action Summit at the UN headquarters in New York.PHOTO: NYTIMES

WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - The Trump administration is preparing the formal withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Agreement on climate change, according to three people briefed on the matter, a long-expected move that nevertheless remains a powerful signal to the world.

The official action sets in motion a withdrawal that still would take a year to complete under the rules of the accord. Abandoning the landmark 2015 agreement in which nearly 200 nations vowed to reduce planet-warming emissions would fulfil one of President Donald Trump's key campaign promises while placing the world's largest economy at odds with the rest of the globe on a top international policy priority.

"I withdrew the United States from the terrible, one-sided climate accord, was a total disaster for our country," he told a crowd of cheering men and women in hard hats on Wednesday (Oct 23) at a natural gas conference in Pittsburgh.

Mr Trump gave no indication that he understood the intricacies of withdrawal or what his administration has planned for the coming days. Instead, he sounded as if the US was already out of the accord.

"I thought when I did that it would be very tough, and all I do is get applauded for that move," he said.

A spokesman for the State Department declined to say whether the agency has drafted its notice to the United Nations that will start the year-long clock before the US can officially separate itself from the global effort to curb global warming.

But in a statement the agency said: "The US position on the Paris Agreement has not changed. The United States intends to withdraw from the Paris Agreement."

Under the rules of the Paris Agreement, Nov 4 is the earliest date on which the Trump administration can submit a written notice to the UN that it is withdrawing. It would go into effect exactly one year later. That could make the 12-month countdown a central issue in the coming presidential campaign.

The Paris Agreement is essentially a collection of voluntary emissions-slashing pledges from about 200 nations. Countries are not legally bound to meet their targets, but they are supposed to report their progress to the UN.

 
 
 
 

The US under the Obama administration pledged to cut emissions about 28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2025. Mr Trump previously said his administration would no longer work toward that target, and the State Department has failed for more than two years to submit documents showing what the US is doing to reduce emissions.

The Trump administration also has taken actions to limit states' abilities to cut their own emissions, recently revoking a waiver that California had under the Clean Air Act to set automobile tailpipe pollution standards at stricter levels than the federal government.

On Wednesday, the Justice Department sued California to block part of a regional greenhouse gas emission programme that included Quebec, arguing the agreement violates the constitutional prohibition on states making their own treaties with foreign governments.

At various points since Mr Trump vowed to leave the Paris Agreement, which he has called "job-killing" and "a bad deal", he has hinted at the possibility of staying in if he could renegotiate better terms.

But the administration never made serious efforts to discuss with other countries what precise terms of the pact it would want to revisit. The handful of administration officials who had pressed Mr Trump to remain in the agreement, such as Gary Mr D. Cohn, the former director of the National Economic Council, and Mr Rex W. Tillerson, the former secretary of state, have left and been replaced by fierce opponents of the accord.

According to three current and former administration officials, who asked not to be named because they were not authorised to discuss administration briefings, the White House has not wavered in its plans to send the formal notice of withdrawal to the UN and is only internally discussing whether to do it at the earliest possible moment or wait.

Mr Malik Russell, a spokesman for The Climate Mobilisation, a youth-led environmental advocacy group, called the decision "insanity" and at odds with popular opinion.

"Just a few weeks ago we had millions of people around the world and in the United States hit the streets at a global climate strike," he said. "We had students walking out of schools; we had a meeting at the United Nations to address the climate emergency."

He added: "This is really a betrayal of the next generation."

Ms Mandy Gunasekara, a former senior adviser at the Environmental Protection Agency under Mr Trump who now runs Energy 45 Fund, a pro-Trump advocacy group, said she visits a different America, where people view a global agreement led by the UN as an infringement on US sovereignty.

Leaving the accord, she said, "is celebrated by your average Trump supporter".

Ms Gunasekara also dismissed the Paris Agreement as an ineffectual effort to curb emissions.

"The Paris Agreement is for those who want to stand behind a piece of paper without doing anything meaningful," she said. "The United States will continue to be an environmental leader where it matters, through actions."

Fossil fuel emissions in the US did fall significantly between 2005 and 2018, a decline that the Trump administration has taken credit for. But energy analysts argue the drop primarily stemmed from the emergence of cheap natural gas and affordable renewable energy, which displaced dirtier coal-fired power.

That is at odds with the Trump administration's efforts to revive the struggling coal industry.

And the trend might be reversing. Emissions increased 2.7 per cent in 2018, according to the latest figures from the Energy Information Administration.