Trump's Difficult Choice on Paris Climate Accord: QuickTake Q&A

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How to Hit the Brakes on Climate Change

President Donald Trump hasn’t, as of yet, pulled the U.S. from the Paris Agreement, the 2015 accord among almost 200 countries to slash fossil-fuel emissions to ease the impact of global warming. But the U.S. broke from its G-7 partners and declined to reaffirm its commitment to the accord, and Trump has taken steps that may make it virtually impossible for the U.S. to carry out its part of the deal. That includes rolling back the 2015 Clean Power Plan, the key driver of what his predecessor, Barack Obama, hoped would be a revolutionary shift in electrical power generation, away from coal and toward wind, solar and natural gas. All things considered, withdrawing from the Paris accord might be a mere formality.

1. Will Trump pull out of the Paris agreement?

We might know this week. By most accounts, it’s among the toughest decisions the young Trump administration is facing, with senior adviser Stephen Bannon arguing for leaving the deal and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, among those pushing to remain. At his confirmation hearing in the Senate, Tillerson, the former chief executive officer of Exxon Mobil Corp., 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.” Withdrawing from the Paris accord is lately seen as gaining favor among top White House advisers.

2. What does the agreement do?

Finalized in December 2015, and effective as of November 2016, the Paris Agreement aims to hold temperature rises well below 2 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels to avoid the rising seas and superstorms that climate models predict. Each signatory nation set out a goal to cut greenhouse gas emissions and pledged to review the goal every five years. Already it’s clear that initial pledges aren’t nearly enough, as new UN estimates point to temperatures 3.4 degrees higher, levels that will render life impossible in some areas of Earth and result in massive habitat displacements.

3. What did the U.S. pledge?

To cut its carbon emissions 26 to 28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025.

4. What is Trump’s view?

That’s a long story. He mocked global-warming fears in a 2012 tweet that he later denied sending. As a candidate, he said he would “cancel” the Paris pact and “focus on real environmental challenges, not the phony ones we’ve been looking at.” As president-elect, Trump told the New York Times that he would “keep an open mind” about the climate-change accord. At a rally to mark his 100th day as president, Trump derided the agreement as a "one-sided" deal that threatens U.S. economic output and will spur the closing of factories and plants nationwide. Trump’s appointee as head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, said he does not believe carbon dioxide is the main cause of climate change.

5. What has Trump done?

By executive order, Trump is starting to unravel a raft of rules and directives aimed at combating climate change. He says those regulations hurt the U.S. economy by killing jobs related to fossil fuels, especially coal mining. He’s repealing a 2016 policy that urged federal regulators to consider climate change in environmental reviews, rescinding directives compelling government agencies and the military to plan for rising temperatures, moving to expand offshore oil drilling, and ending an Obama-era policy of considering the "social cost of carbon" when weighing the impact of government policies. The Interior Department also will swiftly reverse a moratorium on the sale of new rights to extract coal on federal land.

6. Can the U.S. meet its Paris obligations with those changes?

Probably not, which goes to the current dilemma. Since participation in the Paris Accord is voluntary, the U.S. doesn’t face any obvious penalties for failing to meet its Obama-era pledge. That could be an argument to stay in the deal. On the other hand, staying in the Paris Accord could strengthen the hand of U.S. environmentalists challenging Trump’s regulatory rollbacks in court.

7. Can global warming be slowed without U.S. involvement?

As the world’s second-biggest polluter, after China, the U.S. has a key role to play in any attempt to tackle rising temperatures. The U.S. also has agreed to contribute financially to help poorer nations invest in renewable energy.

The Reference Shelf

  • Climate change is just one issue separating Trump and the Old World Order.
  • A QuickTake explainer on climate change, the Paris agreement and Trump.
  • A QuickTake Q&A on taxing carbon.
  • Trump’s stance on the Paris deal may threaten U.S. relations with China.
  • China told Trump that climate change is no hoax.
  • The U.K. urged Trump to support the Paris agreement.
  • The EU, China and Saudi Arabia are taking the lead.
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