Fears mount US could ditch Paris Agreement

The landmark Paris Agreement on climate change set goals to reduce global warming – and the US president may be planning on exiting the deal (despite pressure from the European Union and activists inside the US). James Murray of Business Green asks: will the treaty be ‘cancelled’?

Donald Trump at a rally

Reports suggest concerns over legal challenges could prompt President Trump to take US out of historic agreement. (Photo by Gage Skidmore, edited, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Fears are mounting that President Trump could confirm within days that the US is to leave the historic Paris Agreement on climate change.

Both the New York Times and the Huffington Post have reported that the White House is leaning towards exiting the deal, with an announcement now expected within the next week.

The reports followed warnings from Trump at a rally over the weekend that the agreement would hit the US economy. He also said the treaty was “one-sided” arguing it was a deal where “the United States pays the costs and bears the burdens while other countries get the benefit and pay nothing”.

White House officials have been debating for several weeks over whether the US should seek to retain influence over UN climate talks by staying in the agreement or follow through on Trump’s campaign pledge to ‘cancel’ the treaty.

Reports had suggested Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the President’s son-in-law and daughter, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, had argued for the US to remain in the agreement while pursuing more modest emissions cuts than those proposed by President Obama.

However, EPA boss Scott Pruitt and advisor Steve Bannon argued Trump should stand by his campaign commitment to quit the Treaty and clear the way for a renewed push to accelerate fossil fuel extraction.

Reports suggested the debate has been swayed by legal advice suggesting the government could face significant challenges if it tries to water down the US target under the Paris Agreement to cut emissions 26 to 28 per cent by 2025. Lawyers are also said to have argued that staying in the agreement could embolden legal challenges against Trump’s plan to axe the Obama-era Clean Power Plan.

However, supporters of the Paris Agreement were quick to counter the national emissions targets put forward by countries are non-binding, and while the US would face criticism for cutting its target there is little to stop it doing so.

Business leaders, including billionaire media mogul Mike Bloomberg, have also argued the US is likely to meet the current targets regardless of any White House policy changes, thanks to action at the state level to cut emissions and the increasing competitiveness of clean technologies.

Supporters of the agreement are now mounting a last-ditch push to convince the White House to remain a signatory to the Treaty.

Reuters reported EU officials were reaching out to the White House to provide reassurances that it could remain in the agreement and rethink its approach to cutting emissions.

EU Climate Commissioner Miguel Arias Canete was quoted as saying “there is room for the new US administration to chart its own path.”

“We all continue to hope the U.S. will find a way to remain within the Paris Agreement,” he added.

Officially, governments have signalled that if the US quits the agreement they will redouble efforts to cut emissions and deliver on the Paris Agreement’s goals of creating a net zero emission global economy this century.

However, some observers fear that the US leaving the pact could badly undermine efforts to fund climate action in developing countries and could encourage other countries to water down their commitments to tackling climate change, making it significantly harder to avoid dangerous levels of warming in the coming decades.

This article has been republished with permission from Business Green.

James Murray is the editor-in-chief of BusinessGreen having launched the site in October 2007.


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1 Comment

  1. I’m very unsure about this. The Tillerson camp want the US to stay in the Paris Agreement to sabotage it. Outside, there is very little nothing the US can do to influence the process. Technically, there will still be a US seat for three years, but nobody will pay attention to a de facto mere observer. It will be much easier for hawks to impose carbon tariffs on a rejectionist state. On the other hand, the message of isolationist contempt sent by withdrawal would be emphatic. The really bad news is created by Trump’s domestic policies.

    One small silver lining is that we haven’t heard anything recently about the nuclear option of withdrawing not only from Paris but from the aspirational parent Rio convention, which only has a one-year delay. That was ratified with the unanimous consent of the US Senate. It’s unclear whether in these conditions the US can withdraw by purely executive action, and the Senate Democrats would use the filibuster.

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