President Trump will now wait until after the Group of Seven meeting in late May before making a decision about whether to keep the United States in the Paris climate agreement, his press secretary, Sean Spicer, said Tuesday.
The announcement pushed back a decision that has sweeping implications for the fate of global efforts to fight climate change — and has drawn intense interest from the international community, corporate lobbyists and environmental organizations.
Trump famously promised on the campaign trail to “cancel” the Paris agreement. But four months into his presidency, the Trump administration’s position on the historic agreement endorsed by more than 190 nations remains in limbo, and it will send officials to three major international meetings without having a formal position on the accord.
A White House meeting on the agreement had already been postponed Tuesday — at least the second time a major meeting on the subject has been put off.
At the Tuesday briefing, Spicer was repeatedly asked by reporters about the Paris decision, and he affirmed that Trump “wants to make sure that he has an opportunity to continue to meet with his team to create the best strategy for this country going forward.”
That team is composed of clashing parties with very different views, including Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, who wants the United States to ditch the Paris agreement, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who says the nation should remain a party and continue to negotiate with international partners about how it will address climate change.
The delay means that the Trump administration will have to navigate three critical international meetings this month alone without formulating its position on climate policy: The current meeting in Bonn, Germany, which is focused on implementing the Paris agreement, the Arctic Council meeting in Fairbanks later this week, where the changes in the ice cover will also be on the agenda, and the G-7 gathering.
The Paris agreement, as structured, has posed a problem to the White House because it is simultaneously nonbinding — so it does not force the United States to adopt a particular emissions policy — and yet it demands specifics. Each nation under the agreement has to pledge how much it will cut its emissions, and it’s already clear the Trump administration can’t meet the Obama administration’s pledge to cut emissions between 26 and 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, or eight years from now.
So staying in the agreement would require revising that pledge downward, which would risk drawing international scorn (the Paris agreement exhorts participants to increase, not lessen, their ambition). However, leaving the agreement altogether, and abandoning more than 190 countries, could potentially leave the United States isolated.
Several former Obama administration officials on Monday called on the Trump administration to recognize that the Paris agreement is not overly constraining and that even with their pro-fossil fuel policies, they can live with it.
“The Paris agreement was deliberately structured to be flexible and accommodate countries’ national interests, and as a result create a durable structure that could encourage greater ambition but allow for different country policies over the course of years and decades,” said Brian Deese, a senior adviser to Barack Obama who worked closely on negotiating the Paris agreement, on a call with reporters.
The European Union’s top climate official also urged the Trump administration not to exit the agreement.
“We all continue to hope the U.S. will find a way to remain within the Paris Agreement and to remain committed to the Paris goals,” said Miguel Arias Cañete, the European commissioner for climate action and energy, in a statement. “195 countries have signed the Paris Agreement and there will be 195 different paths to meeting the Paris goals. So there is room for a new U.S. administration to chart its own path as well.”