Former vice president Al Gore said in an interview Tuesday that he thinks “there is a realistic chance” President Trump will opt to keep the United States as a participant in the Paris climate agreement.
Gore, who met with Trump in early December, declined to reveal any details about that discussion. But in an interview during the promotional tour for the revised edition of his book “The Assault on Reason: Our Information Ecosystem, From the Age of Print to the Age of Trump,” he said the president was still considering whether to remain within the global warming pact the leaders of nearly 200 nations struck more than a year ago.
“I do believe there is an ongoing deliberation in the White House about what to do with respect to the Paris agreement,” he said in a phone interview. “I will simply express the hope that there is a realistic chance that the president will ultimately decide that the cost to the United States and to his presidency of withdrawing from the Paris agreement would far outweigh any quote-unquote benefits from withdrawing.”
Trump has sent mixed signals on the pact, under which the United States voluntarily committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels in 2025, while making “best efforts” to reduce those emissions by 28 percent.
Trump said at one point he would “cancel” it — though it would actually take a few years to formally withdraw — and at another point, “I’m looking at it very closely. … I have an open mind to it.”
Behind the scenes, according to several individuals who have been briefed on the administration’s ongoing deliberations but asked for anonymity because no final decision had been made, Trump’s top advisers are divided on what path to pursue. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson testified during his confirmation hearing that he supported remaining in the agreement. The president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, and her husband, Jared Kushner, have also advocated that position privately, these individuals said.
“It’s important that the United States maintain its seat at the table with the conversations around how to deal with the threats of climate change,” Tillerson said during his hearing.
But other Trump advisers, including Stephen K. Bannon, have questioned the validity of remaining a party to the agreement. The president is working to unwind key Obama-era policies aimed at cutting the nation’s carbon output, while simultaneously taking steps to promote coal, oil and gas extraction in the United States.
Both Myron Ebell, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute who served on Trump’s transition team for the Environmental Protection Agency, and Thomas J. Pyle, who headed the transition’s Energy Department team, said in interviews that while there is a genuine debate they remained confident the president would opt out of the global pact.
“The central theme of President Trump’s first 50 days is honoring his campaign commitments,” Pyle, president of the Institute for Energy Research, said in an email. “More importantly, he understands the importance of the U.S. honoring its commitments, especially on the global stage, which is precisely why he should come to the conclusion that it makes no sense to stay in the Paris agreement while simultaneously unwinding President Obama’s domestic climate agenda.”
Ebell noted that if the U.S. stayed in but followed through on Trump’s campaign commitments, it would face “a continual uproar” over its energy and environment policies. “I don’t think Secretary Tillerson knows much about it. I don’t think Jared Kushner knows much about it,” he said. “They want a kinder and gentler international posture. I think if they were fully briefed about it, they’d understand it’s not going to work.”
When asked whether Trump’s domestic actions to promote fossil fuel energy and rewrite Obama’s climate regulations would undermine America’s commitments under the Paris accord, Gore said the U.S. is “well into the early stages of a sustainability revolution that has the scale and magnitude of the Industrial Revolution but the speed of the Digital Revolution. … And that is unstoppable.”
Given that many businesses and governments across the globe, as well as on the state and local levels, are already cutting their greenhouse gas emissions as renewable energy has become more affordable, Gore added: “It may translate here in the United States into the achievement of all the goals the U.S. pledged to meet voluntarily under the Paris Agreement in spite of what the EPA does in its effort to dismantle the Clean Power Plan.”
The global climate pact is likely to come up when Trump meets with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday in Washington, as well as when he meets in the near future with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Mar-a-Lago.
Backers of the Paris Agreement did score one win on Tuesday: The Philippines Senate ratified the pact by a 22 to 0 vote. While Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte expressed some skepticism about endorsing the agreement, the push for ratification was led by Philippines Senator Loren Legarda, who chaired the subcommittee on the climate deal and was trained under Gore’s Climate Reality Leaders program.