Trump's 'Evolving' Climate Views Signal Path Forward on Paris

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  • Merkel says six leaders pressed Trump with arguments on deal
  • Trump says he’s in no hurry to decide on carbon-cutting accord

Merkel and Macron listen to Trump during a G7 summit on May 26.

Photographer: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Donald Trump’s views on the Paris climate accord are "evolving," according to his top economic adviser, who signaled the president may be willing to bow to pressure from European leaders and stay in the agreement if the U.S. wins assurances it can scale back its carbon-cutting commitment.

After German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other Group of Seven leaders pressed the U.S. to remain part of the pact of nearly 200 nations, Trump stressed his commitment to environmental protection.

“We made it clear that we want the U.S. to stick to its commitments,” Merkel told reporters after a closed-door G-7 meeting in Sicily on Friday. “There were very different arguments from us all urging the president to hold to the climate accord.” She said the discussion was conducted in a very “honest” atmosphere, leading to a “very intense exchange.”

Trump’s chief economic adviser, Gary Cohn said Trump "feels much more knowledgeable on the topic today," following exchanges with world leaders including some who "have been involved with the Paris agreement for many, many years."

Cohn stressed that Trump’s decision will ultimately be based on"what’s best for the United States." He cast the agreement as flexible enough to accommodate reductions in the U.S. commitment that would keep the deal from hindering the American economy.

The original U.S. pledge to pare emissions at least 26 percent by 2025 "would be constraining to our economic growth," Cohn told reporters. "But then you get into the whole discussion on Paris: Is it non-binding, is it not non-binding, can you change your levels, how easy is it to change your levels?"

After deriding climate change as a hoax and pledging to pull out of the Paris accord during his election campaign, Trump has sidestepped the issue and passed up a number of opportunities to outline his international stance on global warming. Top administration officials have deadlocked on whether the U.S. should uphold the pact.

In the meeting, G-7 leaders asked Trump his time frame for making a decision. Cohn said Trump told his foreign counterparts: "I’d rather take my time" and get to the right decision.

But Trump told the other leaders that he still has reservations. China, India and other countries working to pare their climate emissions had seen job growth suffer -- and he made clear he was not prepared to live with that trade-off, Cohn said.

Trump told the leaders “he didn’t want to be in second place,” Cohn said, especially because he is committed to keeping his campaign promises to create jobs and improve working-and middle-class opportunities.

Merkel said that the U.S. made clear it hasn’t yet taken a decision on whether to scrap Paris “and won’t make a decision here” at the G-7.

Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, the summit’s host, said separately that there was “no agreement” on the Paris accord.

“President Trump will take time to reflect on it, and the other countries are taking note of that,” Gentiloni said.

The Paris agreement may be addressed in a formal communique expected to be issued Saturday by the G-7, though the nations remained at odds Friday over possible wording that would draw unanimous support. 

Any language clarifying that member countries have the freedom to rewrite their pledges under the Paris accord could buttress those seeking to persuade Trump to remain in the pact. That has emerged as a key concern for Trump administration officials worried the U.S. is barred from staying in the accord while scaling back its carbon-cutting commitment.

Even without a formal decision on the Paris deal, Trump has moved to dismantle environmental policies seen critical for the U.S. to satisfy its pledge. For instance, the Trump administration started a review of fuel-economy standards for cars and light trucks, which along with other vehicles are the largest source of greenhouse gases in the U.S. And he set in motion a process to scrap a regulation forcing utilities to slash their carbon dioxide emissions.

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