World awaits Trump decision on US future in Paris Agreement on climate change

Todd Stern, the chief US negotiator at the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, urges Trump to consider options besides a complete withdrawal including adjusting emissions targets.
Sources tell Reuters that US President Donald Trump will follow through his campaign pledge to pull the United States out of a global pact to fight climate change, a move that should rally his support base at home while deepening rift with US allies.VIDEO: REUTERS
The dome of the US Capitol is seen behind the smokestacks of the Capitol Power Plant.
The dome of the US Capitol is seen behind the smokestacks of the Capitol Power Plant.PHOTO: EPA

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - President Donald Trump plans to announce on Thursday (June 1) whether the US will remain in the Paris climate agreement, as two people familiar with administration deliberations said he was leaning toward exiting the landmark accord.

Trump said on Twitter late Wednesday that he would reveal his decision from the White House Rose Garden at 3:00 p.m. New York time. “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!” he added.

Trump’s move is highly anticipated, and leaders of the six other nations in the Group of Seven heavily lobbied him at a summit in Sicily last week to keep the US in the pact.

But Trump has called climate change a “hoax” and criticised the Paris deal as “one-sided” against the US.

White House legal advisers have warned that staying could undercut Trump’s efforts to rescind rules on power-plant emissions and methane leaks.

Several people familiar with the deliberations cautioned that the decision won’t be final until just before it’s announced. Trump often changes his mind repeatedly when considering major decisions.

Advocates for the Paris accord increased their pressure on Trump after reports on Wednesday that he favoured leaving, including Tesla Inc chief executive Elon Musk, who said on Twitter he would resign from White House advisory councils if the US exits the accord.

The administration has been preparing for several different outcomes and lining up experts to speak to the media when Trump makes his announcement, according to another person familiar with the discussions who, like the others, requested anonymity ahead of the move.

Top administration officials have been divided on what to do, with some, including Ivanka Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, urging the president to keep the US in the deal.

Others, including Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt and White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, lead a faction pushing a US exit.

There is consensus in the administration that the terms of the Paris accord must change, and officials are exploring whether that requires a full exit or a scaled-back US commitment to cut emissions, according to one of the people. Trump met with Tillerson at the White House on Wednesday, according to the president’s official schedule.

“You’re going to find out very soon,” Trump told reporters earlier Wednesday when asked whether he’d made up his mind. “I’m hearing from a lot of people both ways.”

A move to leave would have significant environmental and diplomatic consequences. As the richest nation and the second-largest emitter of carbon dioxide, the US is central to efforts to address global warming.

The Vatican and companies as diverse as Exxon Mobil Corp. and Apple Inc., had urged the president to remain in the pact.

The Paris accord is broader than any previous climate agreement. It calls for reducing carbon dioxide emissions in hopes of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius above temperatures at the outset of the Industrial Revolution. That’s the upper limit scientists have set to keep climate change from hitting an irreversible tipping point, unleashing catastrophic floods, droughts and storms.

With an exit, Trump would make a clean break from his predecessor, Barack Obama, who made the Paris accord a top priority of his second term and pledged the US would slash carbon dioxide emissions 26 per cent by 2025.

Withdrawal would put the US in league with just two other nations – Syria and Nicaragua – that aren’t participating in the agreement.

Trump has already moved to dismantle programmes to fight global warming. He ordered a review of fuel-economy standards for cars and light trucks, which along with other vehicles are the US' largest source of greenhouse gases. And he set in motion a process to scrap the Clean Power Plan, which would have required utilities to slash their carbon dioxide emissions. The EPA is also moving to rescind rules to prevent methane leaks.

If he decides to leave, Trump has two options for jettisoning US involvement.

The first – withdrawing from the Paris agreement – can’t happen immediately. Under the deal’s terms, he must wait until November 2019 to formally submit his bid to quit. It would take another year after that before the US is actually out, under this process.  

The other option – exiting the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – goes beyond simply walking away from the Paris accord. The treaty, unanimously adopted by the US Senate and signed by President George H.W. Bush, has been the foundation of 25 years of global climate talks.

Scrapping the 1990s-era treaty would be a clear signal that this administration has no interest in cooperating with other nations on efforts to address global warming.

US climate efforts won’t completely cease if Trump walks away from Paris.

States including California, New York and Massachusetts continue to move forward with aggressive policies to cut carbon emissions.

Anheuser-Busch InBev NV, Apple, Inc., Alphabet Inc.’s Google and other companies continue their push to power their facilities with wind and solar energy.

Low-carbon wind, solar and natural gas are so cheap that the Department of Energy is studying what it can do to help ailing, older coal and nuclear plants.