President Trump announced today that the U.S. will withdraw from the Paris climate agreement.
"The United States will withdraw from the Paris climate accord," the president said to cheers at a press conference at the White House this afternoon. He added, however, that the U.S. "will begin negotiations to re-enter the Paris accord, or an entirely new transaction, on terms that are fair to the United States."
The announcement today will have immediate effects. Trump said the U.S. will "cease all implementation" of the deal, which includes ending national contributions and stopping payments to the Green Climate Fund.
But while Trump intends to halt all participation in Paris, officially withdrawing from the agreement will take years due to the legal structure and language of the international treaty.
Any country can withdraw from the Paris Agreement three years after the law has gone into effect in that country, said Christiana Figueres, former head of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), on a call with reporters. For the U.S., that date is in November 2019. At that point, the U.S. could officially submit its intent to withdraw by sending notification to the United Nations and complete the exit process a year later, on November 4, 2020 -- one day after the next U.S. presidential election.
Today’s announcement “is fundamentally a political message, period,” said Figueres. “There is no legal basis for anything. I would call it a vacuous political melodrama.”
In the immediate aftermath, France, Germany and Italy all issued a statement saying the deal "cannot be renegotiated."
The political implications are significant, nonetheless. For many, the decision is a devastating setback to a decade of work that culminated in 195 countries agreeing to set limits on carbon emissions, in a coordinated global effort to mitigate the effects of climate change. The U.S. is the world’s second-largest greenhouse gas emitter and would have accounted for 21 percent of the total emission reductions achieved through the agreement.
For others, the decision is disconcerting, not because it could set back efforts to combat climate change, but because of its implications for foreign relations and U.S. diplomatic ties. For big corporations, cleantech businesses and even some fossil fuel companies, leaving the Paris Agreement creates policy uncertainty and could undermine the ability for American companies to compete on the international stage.
Across the political spectrum, around the globe and in virtually every economic sector, there is something for stakeholders to dislike about leaving the Paris Agreement.
For Jim Brainard, the six-term Republican mayor of Carmel, Indiana, the concern is that leaving the climate agreement will take America in a fundamentally wrong direction. Up until the announcement, Brainard was optimistic the U.S. would remain a signatory to the agreement.
“The president keeps talking about being the leader of a great country,” the mayor said. “If he wants to be the leader of a great country, number one, we need to keep our word. Number two, we need to remember that great countries provide clean air for their citizens to breathe; great countries provide clean water for their citizens to drink; great countries lead the world when there is a problem. Great countries do not become dependent on fossil fuels coming from other countries in case of a war or other conflict. Great countries look for economic opportunities for their citizens, to design, patent and manufacture everything from wind turbines, to solar panels, to hydro equipment, to batteries, to coal power -- all of these great products that the world is clamoring for."
“I understand this is an accord signed by the president in the last term, and [it] was not ratified by the Senate,” said Brainard. “However, he was the leader of our country, fairly elected, and absent some national defense issue, we ought to keep our word when the president signs on behalf of the United States.”
Other Republicans have a different view. White House adviser Steve Bannon, as well as conservative groups like the Heritage Foundation and the Competitive Enterprise Institute, have been actively pressuring Trump to leave the global accord.
“God bless President Trump for this courageous step to make America great again and to advance the America First Energy Plan,“ said Fred Palmer, senior fellow of energy policy at The Heartland Institute, an influential libertarian group that has denied the science of climate change. “If new discussions go forward in Paris, the president must ensure no tariffs are allowed on our oil, LNG, and coal exports. The world needs our fossil fuels, and there are billions of people on Earth without energy. Let’s make sure we do well at home while doing good abroad.”
Rather than halt implementation of the deal, conservative groups were hopeful that Trump would put the agreement up for a vote in the Senate, where it would be unlikely to get the two-thirds vote needed to pass. President Obama was aware of this fact, and for that reason he did not seek the consent of the Senate. Instead, Obama “adopted” the Paris Agreement through an executive order last September.
Perhaps an even more impactful course of action than a Senate vote would have been for Trump to announce he was pulling the U.S. out of the UNFCCC, “which underlies all these job-killing, wealth-redistribution schemes,” said Heartland Institute spokesperson Jim Lakely. “Perhaps that’s for Trump’s second term.”
"Much more determination after today"
As Trump supporters and fossil fuel interest groups cheered the Paris announcement, three coal-fired power plants on the East Coast shuttered today. The president said he is putting American jobs first and happens to “love coal miners,” but the retirements signal a potentially unstoppable shift in the U.S. energy landscape.
Low natural-gas prices, flat load growth and increasingly competitive renewable energy resources have triggered a wave of U.S. coal company retirements in recent years. And there’s no indication that coal will make a comeback.
In his speech, Trump referenced a U.S. coal mine that will soon be opening. “For many, many years, that hasn’t happened,” he said.
Indeed, the Acosta Coal Mine in western Pennsylvania is set to open on June 8 and will create 70 to 100 jobs. However, the Acosta mine will develop metallurgical coal that is used in steelmaking, which faces less economic pressure from other energy resources. Thermal coal, which is used in power generation, continues to see a decline.
According to Mayor Brainard, who was just one of four Republicans to serve on a climate change task force under President Obama, attempting to shore up the fossil fuel sector to generate short-term profits will ultimately cause American taxpayers to pay a lot more in healthcare costs.
“At the local level, people get that,” he said. “The Washington people are out of touch.”
More than 1,000 mayors -- from across the political spectrum -- have signed on to the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement, vowing to reduce carbon emissions in their cities below 1990 levels. Action at the local level will not cease in the face of federal policy change, said Brainard, who co-chairs the Conference of Mayors' energy independence and climate committee.
The support corporations have shown for clean energy solutions -- from tech companies like Apple, to industrial companies like General Electric, to goods companies like Walmart -- is also encouraging, the mayor said. These businesses see an economic benefit to buying and selling clean tech and reiterated their commitment to reducing carbon emissions this week.
“You save money if you emit less carbon,” said Brainard. “If Walmart and one of its key suppliers can use 1 inch less of plastic on every widget sold around the world by making a change, then that can save millions of dollars, millions, because of the quantities in which they buy and sell.” The capitalist system encourages companies to boost efficiency and reduce carbon throughout their operations, he said.
Figueres believes Trump’s attack on the Paris Agreement will actually encourage stakeholders to take even bolder actions to address climate change.
“Let’s be very clear. […] It is not the executive that can bring down emissions; it is those on the ground -- it’s the corporations, the states, the provinces and the cities -- that’s where emissions are, and they’re the ones that can actually cut emissions,” said Figueres. “So the fact is we’re relying now on the same actors to bring down emissions in the United States that would have been the actors that would have brought down emissions anyway, whether the United States stays in the Paris Agreement or not. It’s just that I happen to think they will do so with much more enthusiasm and much more determination after today.”