Background: Trump announces withdrawal and renegotiation of the Paris climate agreement

President Donald Trump speaks about the U.S. role in the Paris climate change accord, Thursday, June 1, 2017, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

President Donald Trump announced on Thursday that the United States will either withdraw from or seek to renegotiate the terms of the 2015 Paris climate accord, an agreement reached by 195 countries to curb greenhouse gas emissions and combat the impact of climate change.

The decision fulfilled Trump's campaign pledge to withdraw from the international agreement and roll back a number of Obama-era environmental regulations.

Describing the move as part of his aggressive America first agenda, Trump cited an estimate that as many as 2.7 million U.S. jobs could be lost as a result of implementing the U.S. commitments to the Paris accord. Trump insisted, "I cannot in good conscience support a deal that punishes the United States ... while imposing no meaningful obligations on the world's leading polluters."

Trump's new promise to reenter the Paris accord or a new climate agreement "on terms that are fair" to U.S. businesses and taxpayers came as something of a surprise and raises the clear question of whether or not the remaining 194 signatories will be open to the president's overture.

Speaking on background, a White House official explained that as the president seeks to renegotiate something "more rational" or to fully withdraw from the agreement, the Trump administration "will not acknowledge or do anything to implement the current pledge put down by President Obama."

Immediately following the announcement, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell praised the president's Rose Garden announcement as "dealing yet another significant blow to the Obama Administration's assault on domestic energy production and jobs."

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer denounced the decision to withdraw as "a devastating failure of historic proportions" that "puts America last" in science, and threatens to damage the U.S. economy, the environment and U.S. standing internationally.


World leaders are already taking issue with Trump's speech with Germany, Italy and France saying in a joint statement that the climate agreement is "irreversible" and "cannot be renegotiated" as President Trump suggested.

Even as Trump prepared to announce his withdrawal, the top CO2 emitters China, India, and the European Union have all said they will fulfill their commitments under the pact.

If other nations maintain their pledges to the climate accord, worldwide carbon emissions can still be expected to decrease over time, but without U.S. buy-in, it will occur at a slower pace.

Andrew Steer, president of the World Resource Institute warned that by withdrawing from the agreement Trump will "relinquish U.S. leadership."

"Sadly, President Trump appears to be falling for 20th century economic thinking, when more efficient, cleaner 21st century opportunities are there for the taking," Steer said, warning that Trump's withdrawal "is a clear loser for the American people, business, and national security."

Losing the ability to influence the direction of global climate policy is one consequence of pulling out of the deal, but part of the growing international support for a global climate agreement was based on economic opportunities.

In 2016, global revenue from clean energy, transportation and efficiency topped $1.4 trillion. Increasingly, green jobs have been among the fastest growing in the United States, with one estimate showing U.S employment in renewable energy outpacing the rest of the economy by a factor of ten.

Seeing more opportunities for growth, dozens of Fortune 500 companies, including Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple tried to encourage the Trump administration to remain a party to the Paris accord. Even leading oil and gas companies like ExxonMobil, BP and Shell have stepped up to support the deal.

After repeated efforts to lobby Trump to stay in the Paris agreement, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted on Wednesday that he will quit his role serving on numerous White House economic advisory councils.


The Paris agreement itself is a first of its kind global climate pact reached in December 2015, with individual nations pledging in varying degrees to reduce their carbon output by 2030. Under the framework of the United Nations convention on climate change, each of 195 signatories agreed to contribute to the common cause of addressing climate change and report their progress back periodically, specifically aimed at slowing the rate of global warming.

After decades of failed international climate agreements, Paris was heralded as a success. Unlike the agreement's predecessors like the 1997 Kyoto Protocol or the 2009 Copenhagen climate agreement, Paris established international targets for lowering the contributions to global warming made by both developed countries and developing countries.

Before the agreement was signed, each country outlined its goals for reducing emissions within the 2020 to 2025 framework. Beginning in 2020 and every five years after the signatories will convene to report on their progress.

The ultimate goal of the agreement is to slow the rate of increase in global temperature so it does not exceed 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Scientists worry that a 2 degree increase in global temperatures will mean rising ocean temperatures and sea levels, more extreme weather events, longer droughts, all of which would wreak havoc on world food and water supply and international stability.

The way each nation goes about achieving that goal varies widely.

In September 2016, President Obama signed the accord committing the United States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 and contribute $3 billion in aid by 2020 to help poorer countries manage sustainable development. Many of the environmental rules Obama implemented during his final year in office were aimed at fulfilling the U.S. climate commitments in Paris.

Obama submitted the signed U.S. pledge alongside Chinese President Xi Jinping, who promised to reduce China's dependence on fossil fuel, shifting 20 percent of the country's electricity to carbon-free sources by 2030. China and the United States are the world's top polluters, followed by the European Union and India. Together, all four countries account for two thirds of global carbon dioxide emissions.

Though the agreement is technically legally binding, critics argue that the weak governance surrounding the accord will mean that nations will not have to change their energy and environmental policies. The world's top polluters will be able to continue their activities without making new investments in clean energy and technology.

Trump's own EPA administrator Scott Pruitt has argued that Obama's commitments to decarbonizing the U.S. economy would disadvantage American industry, while allowing other major polluters like China and India to get off "scot-free."

Additionally, nations are allowed to pull out of the agreement, though it is more difficult than Trump has suggested. Because the agreement is already signed, the president must wait three years to request withdrawal, followed by a one-year notice period.


The mere fact that Trump has been able to roll back a significant number of Obama's environmental regulations and pull out of Paris demonstrates one of the biggest problems with the U.S. initiatives to curb greenhouse gas emissions, they're partisan.

Even as Republicans increasingly grow concerned over climate change, there is still deep disagreement on how to address the issue and whether or not to devote government resources to the endeavor.

There is also a faction that remains deeply skeptical about the science behind global warming. Trump's own Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Scott Pruitt has argued that human activity is not a "primary contributor" to global warming, saying that measuring the impact of human activity on the climate is "very challenging."

President Trump's own position on the human contributions to global warming are still very much a mystery. A White House official speaking on background would not say whether Trump believed human activity is contributing to climate change, saying he had not asked the president about his personal beliefs.

Aside from the science, there have been a number of constitutional and legal concerns associated with the U.S. signing the 2015 climate accord.

Myron Ebell, director of the Competitive Enterprise Institute's Center for Energy and Environment, argued that President Obama made an "end run around the treaty process" when he signed the deal that his White House described as an executive agreement.

Obama committed the United States to increasingly stringent environmental regulations over an indefinite period of time, an arrangement Ebell described as "all pain, no gain" for the American people.

"The Paris Climate Agreement promises no measurable climate benefits at an incredible economic and political cost to Americans," Ebell wrote ahead of Trump's decision to withdraw.

The Competitive Enterprise Institute has advocated treating the Paris agreement as a treaty and submitting it to the Senate for approval, where the Republican majority is almost certain to reject it.

Since Trump began openly discussing withdrawal from Paris, only about a dozen House and Senate Republicans have come out to support continued U.S. involvement in the agreement. It is not yet clear whether Trump will submit the renegotiated U.S. position to Congress for approval. Trump indicated on Thursday that he is willing to work with Democrats to improve the terms of the climate deal.

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