Updated - Speculation Grows Over US' Future Approach to Paris Climate Agreement

1 June 2017

Update - Friday 2 June 2017: US President Donald Trump confirmed his plans on Thursday 1 June to withdraw the United States from the UN’s Paris Agreement on climate change.

Speaking from the Rose Garden at the White House, the US leader affirmed that he would also “begin negotiations to reenter either the Paris Accord or an entirely new transaction on terms that are fair to the United States, its businesses, its workers, its people, its taxpayers.”

Trump characterised the landmark climate deal – signed by 194 other countries and ratified by nearly 150 – as “the latest example of Washington entering into an agreement that disadvantages the United States to the exclusive benefit of other countries” and pledged that the US would immediately stop any implementation of the Paris accord, including its nationally determined contribution.

It would also not implement its climate finance commitments to the Green Climate Fund, the UN mechanism aimed at mobilising financial support for helping developing nations slash their emissions and adapt to climate change’s effects.

A more detailed article regarding Trump’s Paris decision – along with the responses seen at the national and international levels – will be published in next week’s Bridges on 8 June. The earlier version of this article, published on 1 June prior to Trump’s announcement, is included below for your reference.

ICTSD reporting.

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The future of the US’ involvement in the UN’s Paris Agreement on climate change has been hotly debated over the past several weeks, amid expectations that an announcement from President Donald Trump is imminent.

Earlier on Wednesday, various media reports suggested that Trump was ready to withdraw the United States – one of the world’s top emitters – from the UN’s Paris Agreement on climate change.

Media site Axios broke the story, citing unidentified sources close to the president, with other news outlets such as CNN and Politico following suit with articles also referring to conversations with unidentified White House officials or other Trump associates.

However, no public announcement had been made at press time – nor was it clear what legal route the White House would take if Trump chooses to pull the US out of the climate deal, with CNN and others reporting that this process was still being debated internally.

Meanwhile, Trump said on social media site Twitter the same day that his announcement on the US’ future involvement in the deal is still forthcoming.

“I will be announcing my decision on the Paris Accord over the next few days,” he wrote within hours of the Axios story going online, with Trump following that statement with his political slogan of “Make America Great Again,” all in caps.

He later announced that he would be making an announcement on Thursday, at 3 PM EDT/9 PM CEST. (Editor’s note: Bridges will release a longer follow-up in a later edition, once the decision has been confirmed.)

As a candidate, Trump campaigned against the Paris Agreement, pledging that should he win the November 2016 election he would “cancel” the US’ involvement in the deal. After the election, he said that he would keep an “open mind,” with reports since emerging that his cabinet and advisers were deeply divided over their approach to the landmark climate agreement.

In the months since Trump took office, conflicting reports have emerged over his stance, along with the timing and approach for such a decision. The US leader previously suggested that he would make an announcement on his country’s future in the accord known in time for the G7 leaders’ summit in Taormina, Italy, on 26-27 May – later saying he would postpone the decision for a few days longer.

At that gathering, fellow leaders from the group – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the EU – all reaffirmed their strong backing to the Paris Agreement, while acknowledging that internal deliberations on the US remain ongoing. (For more on the G7, see related story, this edition)

International debate

During the US president’s travels abroad last week, government and private sector leaders continued their efforts to lobby Trump to keep Washington in the climate deal, citing the economic benefits of staying – along with the economic, environmental, geopolitical, and societal risks of a withdrawal.

Aside from the discussions in Taormina, Trump also met with Pope Francis last week when visiting the Vatican, where the pontiff spoke extensively about the importance of addressing climate change.

Since returning to Washington, the domestic and international debate has heightened amid the expectation of a final decision. Nearly two dozen US Republican senators publicly called for a US exit from the Paris deal last Thursday – arguing that staying in the accord would complicate efforts to undo the Obama-era Clean Power Plan.

Meanwhile, various private sector leaders, civil society groups, foreign government officials, several US Democratic senators, some US House Republicans, and the head of the United Nations have been among those openly urging Trump to keep the United States in the accord and calling for continued global unity around the climate challenge.

“If any government doubts the global will and need for this accord, that is reason for all others to unite even stronger and stay the course,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres in New York on Tuesday 30 May.

Guterres also pledged that “my door is open to all who wish to discuss the way forward, even those who might hold divergent perspectives,” and said he would take a series of steps to build an even greater international momentum behind the Paris Agreement, including a climate summit in 2019 for reviewing its implementation.

The Paris Agreement was adopted in late 2015 in the French capital, and entered into force the following year. The US signed and ratified the accord under then-President Barack Obama. (See Bridges Special Update, 6 November 2016)

Earlier this month, UN negotiators met for nearly two weeks to advance discussions on a Paris rulebook for the deal’s implementation, among various other topics, at their mid-year meeting in Bonn, Germany. The US did send a delegation to these discussions. Climate negotiators will be holding their annual “Conference of the Parties” (COP) under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) this November. (See Bridges Weekly, 24 May 2017)

ICTSD reporting; “Scoop: Trump is pulling U.S. out of Paris climate deal,” AXIOS, 31 May 2017; “Trump expected to withdraw from Paris climate agreement,” CNN, 31 May 2017; “Trump Is Hearing Plenty About the Paris Climate Deal. Who Will Have the Last Word?” THE NEW YORK TIMES, 31 May 2017; “Trump to withdraw from Paris climate deal,” POLITICO, 31 May 2017.

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