President-elect Donald Trump now has free rein to make good on his pledge to “cancel” last year’s landmark climate deal.
Trump has said throughout this year’s presidential campaign that if elected, he would withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement, or at least “renegotiate” it. Now he can try.
“President-elect Trump’s oft-repeated promises in the campaign are fairly black-and-white,” said Myron Ebell, head of his U.S. EPA transition team, in an email yesterday morning.
The billionaire climate skeptic has said he would not only disentangle the United States from the deal reached by nearly 200 countries last year near the French capital but also withdraw all funding from the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change and redirect climate programming funds to infrastructure projects.
Trump’s transition team and Republican lawmakers argue that leaving the agreement will be simple, because it hasn’t been ratified by the Senate. Thirteen Senate Republicans sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry last week stating that “sole executive agreements,” as Obama’s State Department describes Paris, constitute “one of the lowest forms of commitment the United States can make and still be considered a party to an agreement.”
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), who spearheaded the letter, noted yesterday that Republicans have issued similar warnings for more than a year, “but nobody wanted to believe us.”
“The message can no longer be ignored: Americans do not support it when their president sidesteps Congress,” he said in a statement.
Few say the Paris deal has the teeth to compel a Trump administration to make good on the Obama administration’s promises of emission reductions and finance, but opinions differ on the procedures he would have to follow to do it.
“There’s the international side of it, and there’s the domestic side of it,” said Dan Bodansky, a law professor at Arizona State University and an expert in climate negotiation.
How quickly could Trump exit?
The international law requirements are somewhat complicated. One of the reasons Obama helped usher the deal into force early this year is because that meant that any country that was a party to the agreement couldn’t leave until it completed a four-year withdrawal process.
Michael Wara, an environmental law professor at the Stanford Law School, said Trump could use his office to issue an executive communication removing the United States from Paris, but even if he did that, the United States would still be a party for four years and could be subject to its legally binding procedural commitments.
If the United States failed to meet its obligations, which are being negotiated starting now at the U.N. climate conference underway in Marrakech, Morocco, it would be breaking international law.
The United States could take a shortcut and exit the UNFCCC, a move that could be likely, given Trump’s criticisms of the U.N. body. That could be done in one year rather than four, and would result in leaving Paris, as well. Or Trump’s administration could send observers to monitor negotiations but not participate in them and refuse to carry through on Obama’s nationally determined contribution pledge to cut carbon dioxide emissions 26 to 28 percent compared with 2005 levels by 2025.
The United States is poised to miss that target anyway without additional action, which will be a hard sell now that Republicans are in control of the legislative and executive branches of the federal government.
The United States and other parties are called upon to submit new nationally determined contributions for 2030 by 2020, and Wara said Trump could put forward a “business-as-usual” placeholder to stay on the right side of international law.
But it seems unlikely that the bombastic president-elect would opt for quiet underachievement over a grand exit.
Ebell has said he hopes Trump will submit the deal to the Senate, or that the upper chamber will vote on its own initiative. Doing so would “make it clear where the United States stands,” he said in a recent interview.
“That it’s not just about what the president thinks—Obama’s for it, and Trump is against it—but what the country thinks and what the Senate’s advice and consent is,” he said.
Ebell blasted the deal as an attempt to “turn the world’s economy upside-down and consign poor people to perpetual poverty.”
Wara said a Senate vote now would not be “relevant legally, given the status of the agreement.”
Departing Paris has consequences
Greens at home as well as those attending the Marrakech conference said they still hope Trump might not pull out of Paris, despite having spent more than a year saying he would. They note that he’s not a seasoned politician.
“There’s no history of how he would move from the campaigning arena to the governing arena,” said David Waskow of the World Resources Institute.
Several observers note that Trump has seldom articulated clear policy plans, which they said leads them to believe he might reconsider his campaign positions once in office.
Wara said Trump didn’t seem to realize, for example, that his stated support for U.S. oil and natural gas development was at odds with his pledge to prop up the domestic coal industry, which has been undermined by cheap and abundant gas.
Climate advocates also say Trump shouldn’t walk away from Paris, because doing so could undermine his ability to interest other leaders in issues that are higher on his to-do list.
“If a President Trump were not to honor U.S. commitments under the Paris Agreement, it will negatively impact his ability to get the cooperation of world leaders on other issues he cares about, such as trade and terrorism,” said Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, at a briefing in Marrakech.
Frank Maisano of Bracewell LLP said Trump’s ascension doesn’t undermine Paris, because it’s “symbolic.”
“This is only a blow to global efforts in the form of the U.N. process, which continues to be a difficult and often broken process,” Maisano said.
He added, “Clean energy and technology issues will continue to play a significant role in international efforts to reduce emissions,” echoing a theme environmentalists are also voicing in the wake of the election.
“Look for nations who aren’t enamored with the details of how to meet the Paris Agreement to use this as a reason to raise new concerns,” Maisano said.
At a briefing yesterday with U.S. climate advocates in Marrakech, a reporter for a New Delhi-based outlet asked if poor countries can “count on the moral obligation of the next U.S. president” when it comes to climate finance pledges.
The Trump victory makes it unlikely that the United States will make good on the $2.5 billion it still owes to the U.N. Green Climate Fund, and the new administration is likely to curtail foreign aid overall.
Advocates expressed their support for aid but added that developing countries shouldn’t back away from their own commitments.
“The world shouldn’t wait for any one country,” said Li Shuo, senior global policy adviser with Greenpeace East Asia.
Reprinted from ClimateWire with permission from E&E News. E&E provides daily coverage of essential energy and environmental news at www.eenews.net.