Top Trump officials are feuding over whether the United States should stay in — or exit — the historic Paris climate agreement.
The president, who promised to “cancel” Paris during the election campaign, has faced calls from oil, gas and even some coal companies for the United States to remain a party to an accord endorsed by nearly 200 countries. But many conservatives and climate-change doubters have continued to urge Trump to keep his election pledge and quit the agreement.
The White House has suggested that Trump would make his decision about the fate of the Paris agreement by late May, when leaders of the Group of Seven major economies are expected to gather in Taormina, Italy. But a decision could also emerge from a meeting of his top advisers that was postponed Tuesday and could take place as early as next week, according to Republican lobbyists.
The meeting — whose new date, for now, remains unclear — was charged with offering recommendations to Trump, the White House said. But spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Tuesday that while the advisers “wanted to have that conversation,” it had been put off because of “scheduling conflicts,” including several top officials traveling with the president to Wisconsin for an event.
Those officials are divided.
The Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Scott Pruitt, said last week that he believes the United States should “exit” the deal, which is seen as a key part of President Barack Obama’s legacy. Trump’s chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, is also viewed as an opponent of the agreement.
But Secretary of State Rex Tillerson argued in his Senate confirmation hearing that the United States should maintain a “seat at the table” in international climate talks. Others, including National Economic Council head Gary Cohn, who held a White House meeting about a possible carbon tax, Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, are also considered supportive of the deal.
At a minimum, said one GOP consultant close to the White House, Trump is likely to cut off contributions that President Obama was making to the Green Climate Fund under the international accord, a key mechanism by which wealthier developed countries are supposed to help developing nations adjust to climate change and adopt clean-energy technologies to cut their emissions.
Continued international uncertainty about the Trump administration’s stand has been a source of friction at international summits. At the Group of Seven energy ministerial meeting last week, the United States would not endorse a statement about climate change because the Trump administration has still not laid out a formal policy position.
Meanwhile, a number of industry voices have rallied behind the deal. Tillerson’s former company, ExxonMobil, argued to the White House recently that the United States should stay in the agreement and that it does not pose a competitiveness risk to domestic energy industries.
On Monday, Cheniere Energy, the United States’ first liquefied natural gas exporter, wrote to David Banks, White House special assistant to the president for international energy and environment, to similarly argue that “domestic energy companies are better positioned to compete globally if the United States remains a party to the Paris Agreement.”
Even the major coal company Cloud Peak Energy is now on record supporting the accord.
But Trump faces competing pressure to leave it, too. On Tuesday, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a conservative advocacy group, released an ad urging Trump to jettison the Paris climate deal. The ad includes footage of Trump on the campaign trail, promising to “cancel” the Paris deal.
“Mr. President, don’t listen to the swamp,” it goes on to say. “Keep your promise. Withdraw from the Paris climate treaty.”
In a statement accompanying the ad’s release, CEI’s Myron Ebell — who headed up Trump’s EPA transition team — said exiting the Paris agreement is an integral part of the new administration’s push to unravel Obama-era environmental regulations.
“The Paris Climate Treaty requires the United States to make drastic cuts in fossil fuel energy use by 2025, which will raise energy prices and slow economic recovery from our decade-long slump,” Ebell said. “It also requires us to submit more ambitious commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions every five years. Failure to withdraw from the Paris Climate Treaty will make President Trump’s plans to undo Obama’s climate agenda vulnerable to legal challenges.”
One utility industry lobbyist, Michael McKenna, argued in a note that “the fundamental purpose of the Paris Agreement is to drive developed nations toward environmental regimes that are mathematically incompatible with economic growth.” He said the accord allowed other nations to increase their overall emissions.
“Mr. Kushner must know that an obviously broken campaign pledge will impair the President’s ability to be reelected,” McKenna wrote. “He probably also knows (or will know) that there is no mechanism — absent withdrawal — that allows the sort of reworking the agreement that some in the Administration have suggested is possible.”
The Paris climate accord has been described as a “bottom-up” approach in which individual countries come forward with their own pledges to the international community to cut their greenhouse gas emissions. Parties are expected to ramp up ambitions over time, acknowledging that it will take considerable effort to put the world on a path to limit the planet’s warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels, as the Paris accord prescribes.
With the current Paris pledges alone, the planet is still forecast to warm by 2.6 to 3.1 degrees Celsius (4.68 to 5.58 degrees Fahrenheit), according to one scientific analysis, which would have profound impacts.
The administration could try to remain a party to the Paris agreement but revise downward the United States’ ambitious emissions pledge to the world. That is precisely the path recently advocated by Trump campaign energy adviser Kevin Cramer, a congressman from North Dakota.
The Obama administration committed to lowering emissions by 26 to 28 percent below their 2005 levels by 2025. That’s presumably out of the question given Trump’s coal-friendly energy policies, but a more moderate promise may not be.
The agreement also requires a lengthy waiting period for any party to exit the accord once it has come into force. Parties cannot withdraw for three years, and then there’s another year’s wait time after that — the length of a presidential term.
Some conservatives have argued that the United States can exit more quickly by quitting the broader diplomatic superstructure for addressing the climate problem — namely, the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
If the administration does stick with the Paris agreement, Trump energy policy rollbacks and, most importantly, the presumed demise of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan would force a less ambitious emissions goal, according to analysts of the United States’ greenhouse gas trajectory.
“If the current policy intentions of the Trump administration come into effect, it will be impossible to meet the [nationally determined contribution] that was originally made by the Obama administration,” said Niklas Höhne, a founder of the New Climate Institute and professor at Wageningen University in the Netherlands. “Not that the Trump administration would fully reverse existing trends on renewables or efficient cars, but because it will prevent new policies in other areas planned by the Obama administration from being implemented.”
Ellie Johnston of Climate Interactive, a nonprofit group based in Washington, D.C., provided The Post with an analysis showing that the United States could cut its emissions by 3 percent below 2005 levels by the year 2025 even without the Clean Power Plan and a number of other planned Obama policies if it adheres to an international accord limiting highly polluting gases known as hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs. That scenario also assumed that ambitious climate policies continue in California, a U.S. leader in emissions reductions.
A pledge to cut emissions by only 3 percent would be sure to draw international scorn — although the United States might not be the only major emitter caught downgrading its ambitions. Brazil, in particular, has seen a recent increase in the rate of deforestation, a major contributor to climate change.
Whether or not the Trump administration decides to stay in the Paris agreement, many in the international community are assuming that the U.S. government’s leading role on climate action is over for the foreseeable future.
“It’s clear that we cannot expect the same kind of leadership from the U.S. following the change in administration,” Miguel Arias Cañete, the European Union’s climate action and energy commissioner, said in an email. “What is clear is that while some look back, the E.U., China and many other major economies look ahead. For us, the Paris Agreement is not a bad deal, it is a good deal. It is not a blast from the past but a promise for a better future.”
Cañete said that while climate action from the world’s major economies is “more important than ever,” he remains confident that other countries will keep pushing forward with efforts to slash global carbon emissions, even if the United States is no longer leading the charge.
“Not only because we all see climate change as a matter of national and global security, a multiplying factor of social and political fragility, and a root cause for the displacement of people,” he said. “But because that tackling climate change and reforming our energy systems are significant drivers of job creation, investment opportunities and economic growth.”
The White House’s climate debate comes even as the planet continues to signal that fast changes are afoot. NASA just photographed a new crack in one of Greenland’s largest glaciers, Petermann, suggesting that the rate of ice loss from the vast ice sheet could continue to grow in coming years, further raising sea levels.
And on Monday, scientists published a striking study showing that in Canada’s Yukon territory, the retreat of a glacier had actually caused the rerouting of an entire river — an apparent first when it comes to mega-scale effects of human-caused global warming.
More from Energy and Environment: