- By David FrancisDavid Francis is a senior reporter for Foreign Policy, where he covers international finance. An award-winning journalist, David has reported from all over Europe, Nigeria, Kenya, Mexico, and Afghanistan on terrorism, national security, the geopolitics of energy, global economics, and the European financial crisis. His work has been published in outlets including the Christian Science Monitor, the Financial Times Deutschland, Slate, and SportsIllustrated.com.
What will the United States potentially have in common soon with war-torn Syria and Nicaragua? It won’t be part of the Paris Climate Agreement.
One hundred and ninety-five nations have signed the pact, meant to cope with climate change. But according to multiple reports, U.S. President Donald Trump is poised to follow through on his campaign promise to leave the landmark deal.
On Wednesday, as reports of a potential U.S. exit from the agreement emerged, Trump took to Twitter to assure the public that a decision on whether to leave the deal, struck by President Barack Obama in 2015, was forthcoming. He gave no indication of how he would proceed, other than his action would “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”
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
Trump’s statement gives his some wiggle room on whether he would actually leave. On Tuesday, he met with Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt, who wants the U.S. out of the accord. He is set to meet on Wednesday with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the former Exxon head, who is for remaining in the agreement. The president’s daughter and advisor, Ivanka Trump, has also urged her father not to withdraw.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment on the reports.
In the past, Trump has backed off seemingly imminent decisions to follow through on campaign promises. After he took office, he appeared poised to leave NAFTA, the free trade agreement between the U.S., Canada and Mexico, but didn’t. The United States remains in the trade deal today, although Trump has vowed to renegotiate it to win more favorable terms for American businesses.
Trump, who promised to bring long-gone employment back to coal country, made leaving the Paris deal a cornerstone of his campaign. He said the agreement hindered U.S. job growth and put the United States at the mercy of other countries even though the accord lacks an enforcement mechanism. The Obama administration pledged by 2025 to lower emissions by 26 to 28 percent below their 2005 levels.
As reports of a U.S. withdrawal circulated Wednesday morning, both the European Union and China reaffirmed their commitment to the deal. An EU official told the Associated Press that both sides planned to “spell out” how they plan to meet their commitments to the pact in Brussels on Friday.
But without the participation of the United States, the world’s largest economy and second-largest greenhouse gas producer, the deal loses much of its heft, said May Boeve, executive director of 350.org, an organization that backs action to combat climate change. “By exiting, the administration has isolated the United States from the rest of the world and defamed the U.S position as global leader on climate action and much more,” Boeve said in a statement Wednesday.
Heather Coleman, climate and energy director at Oxfam America, said Trump now “stands on the brink of declaring moral bankruptcy, leaving children and grandchildren- including his own- with a terrible mess to clean up.”
It’s still unclear how Trump would legally exit the agreement. Reports indicate that Trump’s announcement could have “caveats in the language” that leave open the possibility that his decision isn’t set in stone.
The accord also has a lengthy waiting period for any party to exit the pact. Signatories cannot leave for three years. In other words, America’s exit would bleed into the next presidential election in 2020. Some conservatives contend a quicker way to ditch the Paris agreement is to exit the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which provides the broader international framework.
Gernot Wagner, an economist at Harvard University, said it was disappointing but not surprising that Trump wants to leave the deal. However, given the head of the EPA, the agency charged with protecting the environment, wants out of the accord, it might be better off without U.S. involvement, he said.
“It might be better to let the rest of the world move ahead with sensible action,” Wagner said. “That is bad for the U.S., but unfortunately, that’s the world we live in.”
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