Will Trump withdraw US from the Paris Agreement?


While on the campaign trail Trump promised again and again that he would pull the US out of the international Paris Climate Change Agreement. It was classic Trump rhetoric, an overly simplistic but enticing sound byte that panders to his audience, but also thankfully like almost all of his other promises is not going to be delivered.

The Paris Agreement is not simply some old-boys club that you can simply resign from and then walk away, but rather is a legally binding commitment that has entered into force on 4th November 2016. Formal withdrawal is of course an option, but the process for doing so takes four years. If Trump issued an executive order that formally pulls the US out, then the US remains part of it for four years and would still be subject to legally binding international commitments. If the US simply ignores those commitments, then it would be in breach of international law.

There is a faster track. That would involve pulling the US out of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)  and would only take one year.

What are the practical implications of complete withdrawal and going rogue on the international stage?

There are other things he cares about, such as trade and terrorism. Tackling those involves gaining cooperation on the international stage. If he fails to honour existing agreements, then he will in turn find that he gets no international cooperation. The global diplomatic backlash would be massive.

Is all this sufficient to think that he would not actually do it?

Not really, but there are others forces now in play as well.

The Political Arena is not the Campaign Trail

Right now it is apparently not at all clear what is going to happen. The public news is that the Trump team is completely split on this …

Trump’s team is split, and though there is some evidence that the pro-Paris contingent is on the ascendant, it’s unknown what the group will urge the president to do.

“That could go either way,” said Jeff Holmstead, a former candidate for the top job in Trump’s U.S. EPA and former assistant administrator in the George W. Bush EPA.

Yet a decision must be made. The administration has pledged to announce one before the president heads to Sicily, Italy, in late May for a meeting of the Group of Seven major economies.

Political spin will of course prevail. When it becomes clear that the US will  remain part of the Paris Agreement, it will be announced as a withdrawal in spirit if not in fact.

The crux of the matter is that the Paris Agreement is not isolated, everything is linked …

Banks, special assistant to the president for international energy and environment, has emerged as a leading voice for staying in the climate agreement. He is said to be the one who called for today’s meeting.

Banks has met recently with fossil fuel companies to float the idea of softening U.S. commitments, and he said before the election that remaining in Paris could be used to leverage better trade deals to help slow the transfer of jobs to China and other nations. That could help Trump fulfill additional campaign promises, he said at the time.

“Imagine this: I’m working on climate change [for Trump], and I convince him and his team of pulling out of Paris,” Banks said last May. “Then he finds out he could have used that for leverage on the trade side. He’d fire me. He’d call me and say, ‘You didn’t know that? You’re fired, Banks, get out of here’” (Climatewire, May 5, 2016).

… and so we had a meeting arranged for earlier in the week in which the cards all get placed on the table for Mr T to make a decision.

Did he opt for what is right and sensible?

He does not have a great record for doing that … ever.

Did he instead see the advantages of staying at the Paris Agreement table so that he could achieve other goals?

Another broken promise would of course result in supporters bitching about it, but we have been here before. The blame for such failures will be passed on, the spin will water it down and present it as a victory, and while they might indeed moan, they will still support him.

So what happened at the meeting scheduled for last Tuesday?

Basically nothing, the meeting was postponed and has not been rescheduled.

What is happening here?

Apparently pressure is rising to keep a US seat at the table from some rather unexpected places …

Surprisingly, it’s the big oil companies who are vocally supporting the climate agreement, joining others in the administration that include Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner.

Specifically, ExxonMobil, Chevron, Royal Dutch Shell and BP are all in favor of America staying in the Paris COP21 pact, which former President Obama hailed as “the moment that we finally decided to save our planet.”

A BP (BP) spokesman told CNNMoney that it “welcomed the Paris agreement when it was signed, and we continue to support it…

“We believe it’s possible to provide the energy the world needs while also addressing the climate challenge,” BP said.

Has the traditional energy industry suddenly grown a conscience?

Not at all, this is simply business moving things in a direction that plays to their financial benefit. The clampdown of the emissions of CO2 gains considerable traction with the major energy providers because this helps them to promote something that they have a deep financial interest in – natural gas. This is a huge growth area for them and is also one that provides a vast chunk of their income. To quote an official statement by one of these providers, they are … “reducing emissions in the power sector by producing and marketing natural gas.”.

Bottom Line: These are companies with deep pockets and a huge political footprint. The US will not be pulling out of the Paris Agreement even if doing so is a major wet dream event for both Steve Bannon and Scott Pruitt.

Further Reading

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