Trump advisers divided on Paris climate accord
President mulls whether to exit Paris agreement.
WASHINGTON — The White House is fiercely divided over President Donald Trump’s campaign promise to “cancel” the Paris agreement, the 2015 accord that binds nearly every country to curb global warming, with more moderate voices maintaining that he should stick with the agreement despite his campaign pledge.
Stephen Bannon, Trump’s senior adviser, is pressing the president to officially pull the United States from the landmark accord, but he is clashing with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the president’s daughter Ivanka, who fear the move could have broad and damaging diplomatic ramifications.
Trump vowed on the campaign trail to tear up President Barack Obama’s global warming policies, and on the home front he is moving aggressively to meet those pledges with deep cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency and a new EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, who is a skeptic of climate science.
Next week, Trump plans to sign an executive order directing Pruitt to start the lengthy legal process of unwinding Obama’s EPA regulations for cutting greenhouse pollution from coalfired power plants. Those regulations are the linchpin of the last administration’s program to meet the nation’s obligations to reduce climate emissions under the Paris agreement.
While the president cannot, as Trump suggested, unilaterally undo a 194-nation accord that has been legally ratified, he could initiate the four-year process to withdraw the world’s largest economy and second-largest climate polluter from the first worldwide deal to tackle global warming. Such a move would rend a global deal that has been hailed as historic, throwing into question the fate of global climate policy and, diplomats say, the credibility of the United States.
But it would also demonstrate to his supporters that Trump is a man of his word, putting U.S. coal interests ahead of the global deal forged by Obama.
On one side of that debate is Bannon, who as a former chief executive of Breitbart News published countless articles denouncing climate change as a hoax, and who has vowed to push Trump to transform all his major campaign promises into policy actions.
On the other side are Ivanka Trump, Tillerson, and a slew of foreign policy advisers and career diplomats who argue that the fallout of withdrawing from the accord could be severe, undercutting the United States’ credibility on other foreign policy issues and damaging relations with key allies.
Although Ivanka Trump has not spoken out publicly for action to combat climate change, proponents and opponents of such action see her as an ally. Former Vice President Al Gore met with her during the Trump transition and was ushered in by the first daughter to see the president-elect. Actor and activist Leonardo DiCaprio even slipped her a DVD copy of his climate-change documentary.
“President Trump Must Not Wobble on Climate Change — No Matter What Ivanka Says ...” was the headline of a Breitbart post on Monday written by James Delingpole, who is close to Bannon and who leads the website’s coverage of climate-change policy.
Donald Trump wants to make a decision by next week, say people familiar with the White House’s debate on the climate pact, in order to announce his executive order to undo Obama’s climate regulations in conjunction with his plans for the Paris deal.
According to leaked budget documents, the president will also propose killing off nearly two dozen EPA programs, including the Obama-era Clean Power Program, climate partnership programs with local governments, Energy Star grants to encourage efficiency research in consumer products and climate-change research. Those would be part of a broader budget submission that would cut the EPA’s funding by 25 percent, to around $6.1 billion from $8.2 billion, and its staff by 20 percent.
“If the goal is to fulfill the president’s campaign promises and implement his agenda, there is no value in staying in Paris,” said Thomas J. Pyle, an adviser to the Trump transition and president of the Institute for Energy Research, an organization partly funded by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, who have worked for years to undermine climate change policies.
Trump has cited Pyle’s group as being influential in shaping his energy and climate proposals, including his campaign pledge to withdraw from the Paris deal.
“The two greatest obstacles to a Clexit (climate exit from U.N. Paris agreement) are probably Ivanka and Tillerson,” wrote Marc Morano, a former Republican Senate staff member who now runs Climate Depot, a fossil-fuel-industry-funded website that promotes the denial of climate science, in an email. “Tillerson with his ‘seat at the table’ views could be biggest proponent of not withdrawing the U.S. from the agreement.”
Tillerson is a former chief executive of Exxon Mobil, which, like many major global corporations, endorsed the Paris agreement. While his former company once denied humancaused climate change, it has more recently publicly acknowledged the threat posed by burning oil and supported proposals to tax carbon dioxide pollution.
Asked during his Senate confirmation hearing about the Paris accord, Tillerson said, “It’s important that the U.S. maintains its seat at the table about how to address the threat of climate change, which does require a global response.”
Under the Paris agreement, every nation has formally submitted plans detailing how it expects to lower its planet-warming pollution. The Obama administration pledged that the United States would reduce its carbon pollution about 26 percent from 2005 levels by 2025. However, that pledge depends on enactment of Obama’s EPA regulations on coal-fired power plants, which Trump and Pruitt intend to substantially weaken or eliminate.
But under the Paris deal, those numerical targets are not legally binding, and there are no sanctions for failing to meet them. The only legal requirements of the deal are that countries publicly put forth their emissions reductions targets, and later put forth reports verifying how they are meeting the targets. It would be possible for the Trump administration to stay in the deal and submit a less ambitious target.
Foreign policy experts say withdrawing from Paris would have far greater diplomatic consequences than President George W. Bush’s withdrawal from the world’s first global climate-change accord, the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.
“I think it would be a major mistake, even a historic mistake, to disavow the Paris deal,” said Nicholas Burns, a retired career diplomat and undersecretary of state under Bush.
“In international politics, trust, reliability and keeping your commitments — that’s a big part of how other countries view our country,” Burns said. “I can’t think of an issue, except perhaps NATO, where if the U.S. simply walks away, it would have such a major negative impact on how we are seen.”
New EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is a skeptic of climate science. Trump plans to sign an order directing Pruitt to start the process of unwinding EPA regulations for cutting greenhouse pollution from coal-fired power plants.