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Donald Trump Pulls U.S. Out Of Paris Accord In Crushing Blow To Climate Fight

Trump's decision underscores his "America First" policy.

02/06/2017 5:36 AM AEST | Updated 02/06/2017 10:11 AM AEST

The United States will pull out of the Paris Agreement on combating climate change, President Donald Trump announced Thursday, a decision that makes good on one of his key campaign pledges but deals a devastating setback to international efforts to curb global warming.

“I’m fighting every day for the great people of this country,” Trump said at a press conference in the White House Rose Garden. “Therefore, in order to fulfill my solemn duty to protect America and its citizens, the United States will withdraw from the Paris climate accord.”

Trump said he was willing to “immediately work with Democratic leaders” either to “negotiate the U.S. back into Paris” or devise a new pact.

“If the obstructionists want to get together with me, let’s make them not obstructionists,” Trump said. “We’ll sit down with the Democrats and all of the people who represent either the Paris accord or something that’s much better than the Paris accord, and I think the people of the country will be thrilled.”

Trump’s announcement ends months of suspense characterized in recent weeks by a reality TV-style cliffhanger over what he would do, as some of his White House advisers urged him to keep the U.S. in the deal.

With his withdrawal decision, the U.S. joins Syria and Nicaragua as the only countries outside the agreement to combat climate change. Other countries, led by the European Union, China and India, pledged to forge ahead in the effort without the U.S. But the loss of the world’s second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases will have a traumatic effect on the fight against global warming.

The move is a particularly egregious repudiation of the international community because the Trump administration could have negotiated for lower emissions targets under the Paris Agreement, officials and the pact’s advocates said. Because of that, the diplomatic fallout will likely be harsher than when President George W. Bush rejected the 1997 Kyoto climate agreement. 

When that administration refused to implement the deal in 2001, other nations knew that the U.S. disapproved of giving developing countries a pass on emissions, and the reduction target was more aggressive. But the terms of the Paris Agreement were brokered to meet U.S. demands. 

The reaction “will be substantially worse because when we rejected Kyoto, other countries understood why,” Susan Biniaz, the State Department’s longtime former lawyer on climate change issues, told HuffPost Thursday. “But in case of Paris, it’s inexplicable why we would be leaving. We negotiated it largely to U.S. specifications and to fix the Kyoto problems.” 

Jonathan Ernst / Reuters
President Donald Trump spent much of the spring deliberating the future of U.S. involvement in the Paris Agreement.

The legally nonbinding deal, brokered in December 2015, was the first to include the U.S. and China. China surpassed the U.S. a decade ago as the top emitter of carbon pollution, and now produces roughly twice the American output. Still, Americans produce more carbon dioxide per person than any other country ― the figure is nearly double that of China, which has four times the population.

In a muted statement, former President Barack Obama said he hopes “states, cities, and businesses will step up and do even more to lead the way” in the absence of the federal government.

Former Secretary of State and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton called the decision a “historic mistake.” Clinton said on Twitter: “The world is moving forward together on climate change. Paris withdrawal leaves American workers & families behind.”

 
 
 

It’s unclear how much pulling out of the Paris Agreement will affect the overall carbon footprint of the U.S. Trump has stressed his goal of increasing U.S. fossil fuel production, but more than 30 states, two dozen cities and half of the Fortune 500 companies already have plans to slash emissions and switch to renewable energy. Those numbers are likely to increase as the price of solar and wind continues to fall.

Still, the symbolism of the U.S. leaving the historic deal, which underscores Trump’s “America First” policy, is likely to cause economic and diplomatic ripples.

The United Nations estimates that the U.S. stands to lose jobs in the rapidly growing clean energy industry ― estimated to be worth $6 trillion by 2030 ― to Europe, India and China. Countries that tax emissions may put tariffs on American-made imports. And big companies that expect the U.S. to eventually regulate carbon are likely to see Trump’s decision as only delaying the inevitable, while also sowing the sort of instability investors don’t like.

Long the laggard in international climate dealings, the U.S. hobbled previous efforts in Kyoto and Copenhagen. That’s in part due to right-wing ideologues who stymied American environmental efforts by insisting that the scientific consensus on manmade global warming was a conspiracy.

In a major shift, the U.S. took a lead role in brokering the Paris Agreement. Leaving it is arguably the most isolationist move yet by the new administration, a step that threatens to weaken the nation’s bargaining power in other accords. A U.S. retreat also cedes ground to China, as that smog-choked emerging superpower becomes the new moral voice on global warming. Last month, President Xi Jinping announced a $900 billion fund to invest in infrastructure and clean energy projects abroad.

That funding could be critical to maintaining the emissions targets outlined in the Paris pact without the United States. The Obama administration pledged $3 billion to help poorer countries increase renewable energy capacity and adapt to rising sea levels and less-predictable droughts. But the country has only paid a third of that money to the U.N.-administered fund, and Trump is under pressure from his own administration to renege on future payments.

“Under the Paris accord, billions of dollars that ought to be invested right here in America will be sent to the very country that have taken our factories and our jobs away from us,” the president said, vowing to “terminate” future payments. “Think of that.”

For months, White House officials indicated in private that Trump planned to withdraw from the agreement, despite public pronouncements that he remained undecided and might backtrack on what had been a central campaign promise. For a presidency facing mounting questions about contacts by administration aides with Russian officials and racked by the failure to enact major legislation ― including health care reform ― exiting the Paris Agreement allows Trump to claim a key accomplishment for his agenda.

He can also point to support from the 22 Republican senators ― including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) ― who last week wrote him a letter urging him to leave the deal. But he now faces rebuke from many members of the business and environmental communities ― including major oil, gas and coal companies, as well as other corporate giants ― who have said the agreement offers an opportunity for global cooperation and consistent climate policies.

The Paris Agreement split the administration into two camps. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Defense Secretary James Mattis and adviser Ivanka Trump, the president’s eldest daughter, supported remaining in the deal. Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, chief strategist Steve Bannon and a handful of other, more radical voices urged Trump to withdraw.

Under the terms of the deal, the U.S. cannot officially withdraw until November 2019, though it could take up to four years to complete. But Thursday’s announcement cements that the country has no plans to meet earlier targets for slashing greenhouse gas emissions.

That much was already clear. In March, Trump ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to review the Clean Power Plan ― a sweeping regulation of formulated by Obama’s administration to limit emissions from the utility sector, by far the country’s biggest emitter. The policy was already stayed by the Supreme Court in February 2016 as a result of a lawsuit filed by the EPA’s Pruitt when he served as Oklahoma’s attorney general.

Without the Clean Power Plan, the U.S. won’t even come close to meeting its goals of reducing emissions by 26 percent to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. Emissions were 12 percent lower as of 2015, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Alissa Scheller / HuffPost
Without the Clean Power Plan, the U.S. wouldn't come close to meeting the goals set out in the Paris Agreement. 

“The Paris Agreement is too costly for the United States,” Adam Brandon, president of conservative advocacy group FreedomWorks, said in a statement. “Americans haven’t seen real economic and wage growth for far too long, and this misguided treaty failed to strike anything close to a balance between preserving the environment and prosperity.”

The president, notably, has virtually no science advisers on his staff.

Other opponents of the agreement said staying in the deal would provide legal ammunition to environmentalists opposed to the president’s domestic energy agenda.

“Over the long term, this will safeguard the president’s domestic agenda and provide one fewer legal means to challenge withdrawing from the so-called Clean Power Plan,” Myron Ebell, a vehement climate science denier who led Trump’s EPA transition team, told HuffPost by phone ahead of Thursday’s announcement. “The environmental pressure groups will have to rely on other legal arguments.”

Rolling back environmental rules is a cornerstone of Trump’s effort to accelerate U.S. economic growth, particularly in rural regions. He positioned himself as a staunch advocate for fossil fuels, nixing climate-change funding from his proposed budget and scrapping rules that discourage pollution and boost zero-emissions energy such as solar and wind.

In a call after the speech, two administration officials said the president “wants to get back to the table with world leaders” in the coming weeks. But the White House failed to secure pledges from any country to agree to renegotiate terms for the U.S. to stay in the deal. The officials repeatedly refused to say whether the president understands the science behind human-induced climate change, which he has dismissed as a hoax invented by the Chinese. 

“Does the president believe in climate change?” one hoarse-voiced reporter shouted as White House officials hung up the phone. “It’s really the only question, guys. It’s either a yes or no at the heart of it.”

Even as officials with firms including Exxon Mobil Corp. and Royal Dutch Shell pleaded with the president to stay in the deal, Trump with his decision embraced those who doubt that burning fossil fuels, factory farming and deforestation are the primary drivers of global warming.

“We’ve seen a resurgence of climate change denial and people within this administration who are standing up for what they believe to be the interests of the fossil fuel industry,” Kathy Mulvey, a climate campaigner at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told HuffPost by phone this week. “But considering what’s on the agenda at the fossil fuel producers’ own meetings, it seems pretty clear a lot of investors think the U.S. sticking its head in the sand about climate change is bad for long-term interests.”

Indeed, shareholders at Exxon Mobil ― which for decades bankrolled a Big Tobacco-style disinformation campaign to discredit climatologists’ findings ― approved a resolution to increase transparency about the risks posed by climate change.

“What we’re seeing is Trump being true to what got him elected, which is playing to a particular segment of the population,” former Rep. Bob Inglis (R-S.C.), executive director of the conservative environmental advocate RepublicEN, told HuffPost by phone. But coal mining jobs aren’t coming back, and manufacturing jobs are still likely to be automated, he said, regardless of environmental regulations.

“They’ve been sold some snake oil. And the snake oil salesman has to have a fast getaway buggy to get out of town because once the people you’ve hoodwinked figure out you’ve hoodwinked them, they come after you.”

This article has been updated with details from a press call with administration officials that occurred after Trump’s announcement.

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