The Cable

Trump Pulls Out of the Paris Climate Agreement

The president argues that the voluntary deal puts the United States at an economic disadvantage.

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President Donald Trump has opted to withdraw the United States from the landmark Paris climate accords, meant to curb global warming, a decision that fulfills one of his campaign pledges but isolates Washington on the international stage.

“The United States will withdraw from the Paris climate accord but begin negotiations to re-enter either the Paris Accords or an entirely news transaction on terms that are fair to the United States, its business, its workers, its people, its taxpayers,” Trump said. “So we’re getting out. So we will start to negotiate and we will see if we can make a deal that’s fair.”

The United States will join the only two other nations — Syria and Nicaragua — who are not parties to the agreement, which former President Barack Obama agreed to in 2015. (Even with Thursday’s announcement, it will still take until 2020 to fully pull out of the pact, leaving a glimmer of possibility of a reversal.) Trump also announced that the United States would no longer contribute to the Green Climate Fund, a United Nations vehicle meant to help developing nations curb carbon emissions.

Under the terms of the voluntary accord, the United States pledged by 2025 to lower greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 percent below their 2005 levels.

Now, that’s probably not going to happen. With Trump also gutting Obama’s new rules to clean up dirty power plants, there’s less federal effort to curb emissions.

But Trump’s decision won’t necessarily mean an abrupt about-face, either. Renewable energy has gotten much cheaper in recent years, making it much more competitive. Cheap natural gas continues to edge coal out of the electricity mix, thus helping lower emissions. And cities and states can still go their own way, offering financial support for renewable energy or setting their own climate-change targets.

California, for instance, has signed a pact with Canada and Mexico to reduce greenhouse gas pollution. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has also said his city will continue to uphold the accord. The mayor of Pittsburgh, which Trump singled out as a city he is defending by pulling out, said before the speech was over that the city will follow the Paris agreement.

Former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy called Trump’s decision “embarrassing.”

“The decisions makes zero sense from a public health or economic perspective. It’s contrary to science and his obligation to protect American kids and future generations,” McCarthy said.

“This decision shows a stunning disregard for the wellbeing of people and the planet. President Trump will now have to answer for walking away from one of the most hard-fought and popular global achievements in recent memory,” added Andrew Steer, president of the World Resources Institute, in a statement Thursday.

President Obama said Trump’s decision means the United States will “reject the future.”

Jeff Immelt, CEO of General Electric, condemned Trump’s decision on Twitter. Elon Musk, the head of Tesla Motors and a member of Trump’s Business Advisory Council, announced he was stepping down.

On the campaign trail, Trump argued that the accord was bad for the U.S. economy, a point he returned to at the White House on Thursday, citing potential job losses and economic burdens that would ostensibly come from complying with the pact.

“I cannot in good conscience support a deal that punishes the United States, which is what it does,” Trump said.

Still, the decision is an odd one, since a majority of Americans are more concerned than they’ve ever been about the threat of climate change. A March Gallup poll found that 70 percent of Americans believe climate change is happening. And plenty within the Trump administration and the business community lobbied the White House not to walk away from the voluntary pact.

Oil giants ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips, as well as Apple, Dow Chemical, Adobe, Intel, Hewlett Packard are among 25 big U.S. firms who ran a full-page ad in Washington, D.C. newspapers urging Trump to honor his predecessor’s climate commitments.

“President Trump’s decision today to remove the United States from the Paris Agreement is a shocking reversal of American global leadership and transparently political, the clearest sign yet he will do whatever he can to dismantle President Obama’s legacy purely for the sake of it,” Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), said Thursday.

Trump’s decision removes the world’s second-largest carbon emitter from the only global agreement to cut emissions, and cedes climate leadership to Europe and China. Officials from both sides are expected to reaffirm their commitment to the agreement Friday.

Right before Trump started speaking, Chinese state media reaffirmed the government’s commitment to fighting climate change.

EU leaders slammed Trump for mulling a withdrawal from the landmark agreement well before his announcement. “The Americans can’t just leave the climate protection agreement. Mr. Trump believes that because he doesn’t know the details,” said EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Wednesday.

“I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris,” Trump said, referring to the Pennsylvania city that voted for Hillary Clinton and represents a post coal and steel economy.

Photo credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images

 

David Francis was a senior reporter for Foreign Policy, where he covered international finance. @davidcfrancis

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