President Donald Trump is planning to pull the United States out of the Paris climate change agreement, according to a White House official, in a move that is certain to infuriate America’s allies across the globe and could destabilize the 2015 accord.
The upcoming decision is a victory for hardliners such as senior White House adviser Stephen Bannon, who argued that the deal would hobble the U.S. economy and Trump’s energy agenda, and a defeat for moderates like Trump’s daughter Ivanka, who feared that withdrawing would damage U.S. relations abroad. Trump had promised during the campaign to “cancel” the nearly 200-nation agreement, the most comprehensive climate pact ever negotiated.
World leaders repeatedly pressed Trump on the issue during his recent trip to Europe, as did Pope Francis, who gave the president his papal encyclical on climate change when they met in the Vatican. Others who supported staying included Trump’s secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, and major oil companies such as ExxonMobil and Shell.
But the vast campaign to persuade the U.S. to remain ultimately did not sway the president.
Trump’s move marks the second time in two decades that the United States has negotiated, signed but then spurned a major international climate pact following a change of party control in the White House. The previous occasion — the decision by George W. Bush to abandon the 1997 Kyoto accord negotiated by the Clinton administration — caused years of distrust of the U.S. in international climate circles.
Since then, climate scientists say, the problem has grown only more dire, with precious few years left for nations to act if they want to avoid the droughts, floods, famines, mass migrations and worsening storms that a changing climate would bring.
Only two countries declined to join the Paris agreement: Syria and Nicaragua.
Republican leaders in Congress had warned other countries before the Paris talks not to trust Obama’s promises, noting that a future GOP president could undo any commitments he made. The Obama administration had insisted that the deal’s carbon-cutting targets be nonbinding, avoiding the politically disastrous Senate ratification fight that a binding treaty would require.
It will take years for the U.S. to formally withdraw from the Paris deal. But the U.S. is the world’s second-largest carbon polluter, and its decision to walk away threatens to weaken the resolve of major emitters such as China and India to keep their own pledges, even though both nations have pledged to remain in the agreement.
The move is certain to draw the ire of dozens of American allies who received assurances from the Obama administration that the United States was committed to the deal.
Wednesday’s news comes on top of separate steps by Trump to weaken the major domestic planks of Obama’s climate agenda, including Environmental Protection Agency regulations requiring cuts in greenhouse gas pollution from power plants.
Trump’s advisers were at odds over how the administration should approach Paris. Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, had pushed to stay in the deal, and Ivanka even brought Al Gore to Trump Tower to meet with her father in December. Gore spoke with Trump again this month in an effort to encourage the president to remain in the agreement.
Trump was also personally lobbied by world leaders at a recent G-7 summit in Italy, and foreign diplomats repeatedly made their case for remaining in the agreement during frequent calls with administration officials.
Others in the “remain” camp included Tillerson, who had praised the Paris deal when he was ExxonMobil’s CEO. During his confirmation hearing this year, he said the United States must keep "its seat at the table" for international climate talks.
But ultimately, Bannon and his allies in the White House won Trump over, arguing that the agreement wasn’t in the U.S. interest.
Even if the U.S. had stuck with the deal, scientists and climate activists have warned that the targets Obama and other leaders promised in Paris wouldn’t cut enough carbon pollution to prevent the worst effects of climate change. Instead, they said, the signing nations would have to steadily escalate their commitments in coming years.
The agreement calls on countries to aim to limit global warming to "well below" 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit from pre-industrial levels, and it said countries should "pursue efforts" to keep temperature increases to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit. Under a business as usual scenario, global temperatures could rise by between 4.7 degrees Fahrenheit and 8.6 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century, according to the United Nations, an increase that would have catastrophic consequences.