President Donald Trump said he would withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate pact, saying it favors other nations at the expense of American workers, a move that angered European allies, corporate executives and religious leaders.
“We are getting out, but we will start to negotiate and we will see if we can make a deal, and if we can, that’s great,” Trump said Thursday, arguing the pact benefits China and India. “And if we can’t, that’s fine.”
Trump’s announcement spurns pleas from corporate executives, world leaders and even Pope Francis who warned the move imperils a global fight against climate change. His decision also drew an immediate condemnation from the leaders of France, Germany and Italy, who issued a statement insisting that the agreement was “irreversible” and “cannot be renegotiated.” The Japanese government described the U.S. move as “regrettable.”
Trump is kicking off a withdrawal process that will take years to unfold — creating an opening for him to reverse course and injecting it as an issue in the next presidential election. Under the terms of the deal, the earliest the U.S. can formally extricate itself from the accord is Nov. 4, 2020 — the day after the next presidential election. And Trump would have wide latitude to change his mind up until that point.
“The Paris accord would undermine our economy, hamstring our workers, weaken our sovereignty, impose unacceptable legal risk and put us at a permanent disadvantage to the other countries of the world,” Trump said. “China will be allowed to build hundreds of additional coal plants. We can’t build new coal plants, but China, India can.”
“I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh — not Paris,” he said.
Trump, who has called climate change a “hoax,” campaigned on the pledge to exit the 2015 pact. White House legal advisers had warned that staying in the accord could undercut Trump’s efforts to rescind rules on power-plant emissions and fuel efficiency.
The agreement allows nations to adjust their individual emissions targets, with a goal of strengthening them over time. But there is no established mechanism that would prompt countries to renegotiate the entire accord. Negotiators built flexibility into the deal from the start, structuring the agreement so that individual countries could determine their own commitments — without any punishment for failing to fulfill them.
“Apparently the White House has no idea how a treaty works,” Christiana Figueres, the former executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, told reporters in a conference call. She described Trump’s announcement as a “vacuous political melodrama.”
Withdrawal would put the U.S. in league with just two other nations — Syria and Nicaragua — that are not participating in the agreement.
Countries’ individual pledges vary widely. For instance, where the U.S. promised to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 26 percent from 2005 levels by 2025, China said it would only begin reducing its emissions by about 2030. And India said it would only reduce the carbon intensity of its economy, meaning the nation’s emissions could continue to rise.
The Paris accord was a signature achievement for Barack Obama’s efforts to combat climate change while president. Obama released a statement after Trump’s announcement saying the pact “opened the floodgates for businesses, scientists, and engineers to unleash high-tech, low-carbon investment and innovation on an unprecedented scale.”
“Even in the absence of American leadership — even as this administration joins a small handful of nations that reject the future — I’m confident that our states, cities, and businesses will step up and do even more to lead the way,” Obama said.
As if to underscore that point, Bill Peduto, the mayor of Pittsburgh, tweeted that his city “will follow the guidelines of the Paris Agreement for our people, our economy & future.”
Conservative groups and fossil fuel advocates quickly applauded Trump’s move.
“By not succumbing to pressure from special interests and cosmopolitan elites, the president demonstrated he is truly committed to putting America’s economy first,” Michael Needham, the chief executive officer of Heritage Action, said in a statement.
Coal executive Robert Murray praised Trump for “supporting America’s uncompromising values, saving coal jobs and promoting low-cost, reliable electricity for Americans and the rest of the world.”
As the richest nation and the second-largest emitter of carbon dioxide, the U.S. is central to efforts to address global warming. The Vatican, European leaders and companies as diverse as Exxon Mobil Corp. and Microsoft Corp. had urged the president to remain in the pact, with last-minute appeals by Tesla Inc.’s Elon Musk and Apple Inc.’s Tim Cook.
Both Musk and Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Officer Bob Iger said they would resign from a presidential jobs panel as a result of Trump’s decision.
Corporate leaders have warned of long-term economic consequences, arguing that a withdrawal would put the U.S. at a disadvantage in the global race to develop and deploy clean-energy technology. They argued a U.S. exit also risks a backlash against American products, raising the specter of consumer boycotts or carbon tariffs from the European Union, China and other nations.
Jeff Immelt, the chairman of General Electric Co., tweeted that he was “disappointed” with the decision, adding that "climate change is real," and the onus now falls on industry to lead.
Goldman Sachs Group Inc. chief executive Lloyd Blankfein, in his first tweet, said, “Today’s decision is a setback for the environment and for the U.S.’s leadership position in the world.” JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s Jamie Dimon said in a statement that he “absolutely” disagreed with the withdrawal, but added, “we have a responsibility to engage our elected officials to work constructively and advocate for policies that improve people’s lives and protect our environment.”
Congressional Democrats quickly condemned the decision on the Paris accord.
Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut, tweeted "Dear planet, we’re sorry. Please just hang on for three and a half more years and we’ll fix this. We promise."
Some Republicans also criticized the action. Senator Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine, tweeted that she was “disappointed in the president’s decision,” because "climate change requires a global approach."
The debate whether to exit the agreement played out for months in the White House. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt and chief strategist Stephen Bannon pushed for a exit. Those arguing to stay included Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, senior adviser Jared Kushner and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Energy Secretary Rick Perry endorsed a renegotiation.
Ivanka Trump and Kushner, her husband, did not attend Trump’s Rose Garden speech.
The Paris accord is broader than any previous climate agreement. It calls for reducing carbon dioxide emissions in hopes of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above temperatures at the outset of the Industrial Revolution. That’s the upper limit scientists have set to keep climate change from hitting an irreversible tipping point, unleashing catastrophic floods, droughts and storms.
Trump has already moved to dismantle regulations and government programs to fight global warming. He ordered a review of fuel-economy standards for cars and light trucks, which along with other vehicles are the U.S.’s largest source of greenhouse gases. And he set in motion a process to scrap the Clean Power Plan, which would have required utilities to slash their carbon-dioxide emissions. The EPA is also moving to rescind rules to prevent methane leaks.
U.S. climate efforts won’t completely cease just because Trump is walking away from Paris.
California, New York, Massachusetts and other states continue to advance aggressive policies to cut carbon emissions. Anheuser-Busch InBev NV, Amazon.com Inc., Alphabet Inc.’s Google and other companies are still pushing to power their facilities with wind and solar energy. And low-carbon wind, solar and natural gas are so cheap the Department of Energy is studying what it can do to help ailing, older coal and nuclear plants.
The governors of California, New York and Washington responded to Trump’s speech by announcing the formation of a “United States Climate Alliance” to propel state action to address climate change.
California Governor Jerry Brown called the planned U.S. exit “tragic.”
“California will resist,” Brown said. “This is an insane move by this president.”