President Donald Trump announced Thursday that he will exit the Paris climate agreement, dealing a blow to the global effort to crack down on greenhouse gas emissions.
But he said he’d be willing to re-enter an international climate deal if he could secure better terms for the United States. It could take years or even decades to renegotiate such a deal, however, even if other nations were willing to take part.
"I am fighting every day for the great people of this country. Therefore, in order to fulfill my solemn duty to protect America and its citizens, the United States will withdraw from the Paris climate accord," Trump said during a lengthy Rose Garden speech.
He continued, "We’re getting out, but we will start to negotiate and we’ll see if we can make a deal that’s fair. If we can, that’s great. If we can’t, that’s fine."
Those who attended Trump’s speech broke into applause when Trump announced he would withdraw. They were silent when he said he’d be willing to renegotiate the agreement.
While Trump’s call to negotiate a better deal could offer hope for nations who want the United States to continue participating in international climate talks, it’s unclear whether other countries would be willing to enter into new climate negotiations with America after the U.S. just spurned a major climate pact for the second time in two decades.
The news follows weeks of intrigue about the pact that nearly 200 nations agreed to in December 2015, aimed at uniting the world to head off the worst of the storms, floods and droughts that scientists say a warming world would bring.
The U.S. withdrawal is a victory for Trump advisers, including White House strategist Steve Bannon and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who wanted the president to fulfill his campaign pledge to break with former President Barack Obama’s policies. Other aides, including the president’s daughter Ivanka Trump, had advocated taking a middle course — remaining in the deal while weakening Obama’s pledges for the U.S. to cut its greenhouse gas pollution.
The U.S. would join Nicaragua and Syria, the only two countries that declined to participate in the agreement.
White House officials briefed conservative groups and congressional staff earlier Thursday about the details of the withdrawal, distributing talking points that bashed the Paris deal. Officials said they will withdraw from the agreement using the underlying terms of the deal, which means it will likely take four years to formally pull out. That would delay the likely date of a formal withdrawal until November 2020, right after the presidential election.
"Paris will be on the ballot" in 2020, Brian Deese, Obama’s former climate adviser, wrote on Twitter.
During his remarks, Trump said the U.S. would stop implementing Obama’s domestic climate pledge and stop sending money to the Green Climate Fund, an international program aimed at helping poor countries cope with climate change. Trump argued that the Paris deal "punishes the United States," calling it a "massive redistribution of United States wealth to other countries."
In response, Obama portrayed Trump’s move as a bad deal for the U.S.
"The nations that remain in the Paris Agreement will be the nations that reap the benefits in jobs and industries created. I believe the United States of America should be at the front of the pack," Obama said in a statement. "But 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, and help protect for future generations the one planet we’ve got."
The decision has far-reaching political and diplomatic implications for the Trump administration, and forced the president to choose between his “America First” campaign agenda and U.S. relations with countries that regard climate change as one of the world’s foremost problems.
The drama escalated in recent weeks as Pope Francis and numerous world leaders urged Trump to stay in the deal, and as the agreement drew widespread support from U.S. businesses — from tech executives such as Apple CEO Tim Cook and Tesla’s Elon Musk to oil and gas giant Exxon Mobil.
Supporters of the “remain” camp, including Ivanka Trump, her husband Jared Kushner and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, had warned that exiting the deal would needlessly alienate U.S. allies, and that a less-radical alternative of rewriting Obama’s non-binding pledges would allow America to maintain leverage in international climate discussions.
National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, another aide who argued in favor of remaining in the deal, was seated in the front row for Thursday’s Rose Garden announcement. Several Cabinet secretaries also attended, including Pruitt, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
One Trump adviser said dozens of people had tried to persuade the president to adopt a middle ground on the issue, such as establishing a commission to study climate change or launching a 90-day review period. But Trump kept coming back to the economy, saying the accord would kill American jobs and "these international agreements are not good for America," this person said.
"You couldn’t talk him out of it," this person said. "He thought it was a bad deal, and he said over and over, this is a bad deal. This hurts the economy. This is a bad deal."
A slew of conservative activists attended the president’s speech, including Myron Ebell, a former member of Trump’s presidential transition team and staffer at the Competitive Enterprise Institute who rejects mainstream climate science, Heritage Foundation founder Ed Feulner and Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist.
Meanwhile, former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, a frequent Trump critic, has endorsed the deal. “Affirmation of the #ParisAgreement is not only about the climate,” he tweeted Wednesday. “It is also about America remaining the global leader.”
But other Republicans, including Bannon, Pruitt and coal-state lawmakers such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, advocated an explicit break from what they view as Obama’s “war on coal.”
The president ran on a promise to “cancel” the deal, although he has shown an ability to change his mind, including on issues such as pulling the U.S. out of NAFTA, declaring China a currency manipulator and moving the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
However it’s implemented, a U.S. withdrawal will be a severe blow to global cohesion on climate change at a time when scientists say the world has few years left to head off the worst of the rising seas, worsening droughts and spreading disease that a warming planet would bring. U.S. intelligence and military leaders have described climate change as a security problem too, warning it could cause mass migrations and inflame global conflicts.
"Eighty-three countries run into danger of disappearing from the surface of the Earth if we don’t resolutely start the fight against climate change,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said Wednesday as word of Trump’s expected decision began to leak.
Supporters of the deal also see economic opportunities in the shift toward energy efficiency and green energy, and accuse Trump and his team are squandering them. “What’s really stupid about it is they’re throwing out the economic opportunities that being part of the Paris agreement provide for the United States,” Hillary Clinton said Wednesday in an appearance at a tech industry conference. “That is what I find totally incomprehensible.”
In the run-up to the Paris conference, Obama had pledged that the U.S. would reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, largely by carrying out his policies of tightening regulations on power plants and vehicles while encouraging a shift toward greater reliance on wind and solar power. But the Obama administration had insisted that those targets be non-binding, in part to avoid the Senate ratification requirement that doomed U.S. support for the 1997 Kyoto climate agreement.
Regardless of the fate of the Paris agreement, Trump has already moved to shelve the entirety of Obama’s domestic climate agenda, ensuring that the U.S. will not meet Obama’s targets.
Josh Dawsey contributed to this report.