Four Ways Trump Could Get the U.S. Out of Its Climate Deals

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  • U.S. President said to be leaning towards exiting accord
  • Trump has at least four options for leaving the deal

Trump's Options When It Comes to the Paris Climate Accord

With the stroke of a pen, Donald Trump could undo decades of painstaking negotiations that brought almost 200 countries together into a global pact on climate change.

The U.S. president on Thursday will announce his decision on whether to exit the landmark Paris Agreement. People familiar with his thinking on Wednesday said he was leaning toward pulling out.

The 2015 deal isn’t just one piece of paper. It brings together a series of treaties, agreements and understandings that date to the first major Earth summit in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, where world leaders gathered by the United Nations first set out the ambition to limit fossil-fuel emissions. How exactly Trump moves to extricate the U.S. from those deals will have a bearing on the direction of the international effort on climate change.

He has at least four options, including:

  • Exiting from the Paris deal only. The deal had an exit clause requiring three years notice after a formal submission of an intention to withdraw before it can shake free. That will leave the U.S. bound to Paris until 2020. The UN says the U.S. “accepted” the deal in September, a distinction from “ratification” that may produce a legal loophole enabling a quicker exit.
  • A faster option would be to withdraw from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the 1992 treaty that set the basis for the global climate talks that led to Paris. It was unanimously adopted by the U.S. Senate and signed by then-President George H.W. Bush, a Republican. Doing that would bring the U.S. out of the deal by 2018, though it would be much more controversial and harder to reverse.
  • Trump could dispose of the accord by sending it to the Senate, where it may be dead on arrival in the hands of Republican lawmakers. When President Barack Obama’s administration negotiated the Paris deal, his envoys avoided structuring it as a traditional treaty, bypassing the need for approval from two-thirds of the U.S. Senate.
  • Finally, Trump could simply ignore the U.S.’s climate goal under the Paris agreement. He could kill Obama’s Clean Power Plan. And he could refuse to take any steps to reduce emissions. There is nothing in the agreement that would penalize the U.S. for flouting its commitments.

Over the decades that followed the first big climate deal in Rio, some 190 nations have held annual meetings to advance the effort on climate change, often descending into fractious recriminations. Those pitted richer countries against poorer ones about who was to blame for the problem and who should pay to fix it.

The last big push for a deal in Copenhagen in 2009 collapsed in finger pointing between the U.S. and China. The Paris deal was the result of six years of discussions that pieced together the remnants of the failed deal into something that both rich countries and poor ones were comfortable to endorse.

By involving all nations in voluntary measures to cut greenhouse gases, Paris built on the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which had limits only for industrial countries. The 2015 pact agreed in the French capital brought together the biggest historical polluters -- the U.S. and Europe -- with the developing nations whose emissions are now growing most quickly, namely China and India.

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

While there is consensus in Trump’s administration that the terms of the Paris deal must change, officials are exploring whether that requires a full exit or a scaled-back U.S. commitment to cut emissions, according to one of person familiar with the deliberations.

Top administration officials have been divided on what to do, with some, including Ivanka Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, urging the president to keep the U.S. in the deal. Others, including Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt and White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, lead a faction pushing a U.S. exit.

A move to leave would have significant environmental and diplomatic consequences. 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 and companies as diverse as Exxon Mobil Corp. and Apple Inc., as well as Tesla, had urged the president to remain in the pact.

Yet, the Paris agreement was designed in such a way that legally, no other country’s action would be impacted by a withdrawal. Other countries appear to have been galvanized by the threats from Trump, including China, the world’s biggest emitter and the European Union.

At a two-day summit that begins in Brussels on Thursday, China and the European Union will commit to free trade and the Paris climate pact in a sweeping rejection of Trump’s policies.

“We regret this decision of the U.S. to leave the Paris agreement,”’ said European Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis, in an interview with Bloomberg Television from Brussels “We note however that legally it requires certain steps and it takes time -- it actually takes years to quit the Paris agreement.”

— With assistance by Matthew Miller

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