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Trump set to announce decision on climate agreement as experts say withdrawal a 'serious mistake'

The US would join Nicaragua and Syria as the only non-participants if it withdraws from the agreement

Mythili Sampathkumar
New York
Thursday 01 June 2017 16:03 BST
Donald Trump is set to announce his decision on whether to remain in the global Paris Agreement on climate change
Donald Trump is set to announce his decision on whether to remain in the global Paris Agreement on climate change

World leaders, as well as heads of business and climate change activists, have piled the pressure on US President Donald Trump to not make the "serious mistake" of withdrawing from the global Paris climate change agreement - a key element of attempts to curb the effects of climate change.

Numerous reports, citing White House sources, have said that Mr Trump is poised to withdraw the US from the agreement. Having spent weeks refusing to be pushed into a corner by allies from around the world, Mr Trump has said he will announce his decision on Thursday afternoon.

The US is the second largest emitter of carbon dioxide in the world. If the US pulls out it will be a major blow to the accord signed by nearly 200 countries in December 2015 to lower emissions.

Mr Trump had made withdrawing from the Paris pact a central plank of his presidential election campaign as part of his 'America First' policy of protecting US businesses from international interference. Mr Trump has said the accord would cost the US economy trillions of dollars without tangible benefit.

However, in recent weeks Trump officials have sought to characterise Mr Trump's views as "evolving" and even on Wednesday Mr Trump himself said he had been hearing from "both sides". But his lack of commitment to the agreement has left allies frustrated - with German Chancellor Angela Merkel particularly strident.

If Mr Trump announces a withdrawal he has two options. He can initiate a formal withdrawal policy from the agreement which could take up to three years or he can withdraw entirely from the UN climate change body that oversees the agreement, which would be faster.

However, in Berlin, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker stressed withdrawal would take years, saying, “The Americans can't just leave the climate protection agreement. Mr. Trump believes that because he doesn't know the details.”

European leaders tried to explain the process for withdrawing to him “in clear, simple sentences” during summit meetings with EU officials, Nato members and the Group of Seven (G7) nations last week, Mr Juncker said. “It looks like that attempt failed,”

“This notion, 'I am Trump, I am American, America first and I am getting out,' that is not going to happen,” Mr Juncker added.

Dr Rachel Cleetus, Lead Economist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told The Independent that “what makes the Paris Agreement strong is the near-universal consensus.”

However, Dr Cleetus remains somewhat optimistic despite what she called a “serious mistake” on the part of the administration if and when they finally release the details of the withdrawal.

She explained that market trends of increasing investment in renewable energy cannot be ignored.

If Mr Trump announces a decision on Thursday it may be an attempt to outflank China and the European Union who will seek on Friday to buttress the Paris agreement. In a statement backed by all 28 EU states, the European Union and China will commit to full implementation of the accord, EU and Chinese officials said.

Richard Gowan, a UN expert with the European Council on Foreign Relations, told The Independent that Mr Trump’s “decision to withdraw from Paris is a grim signal that this administration remains committed to undermining the UN system.”

The White House’s confirmation that Mr Trump is expected to make this decision comes on the heels of UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres urging the US to stay in, but also indicating that others would take its place as a leader on addressing global warming.

Mr Trump “may not care, but he has just created an astonishing opportunity for the Chinese to assert themselves in the UN system,” Mr Gowan said.

The Sierra Club said a US withdrawal from the Paris deal would be a “historic mistake.” Friends of the Earth said the action would “sacrifice our planet to the fossil fuel industry” and make America the world's “foremost climate villain.”

A recent report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) shows that the world’s economies could boost economic growth by nearly three per cent by 2021 if they institute policies that would lower greenhouse gas emissions. By 2050 that growth could reach up to five per cent.

New money in renewable energy topped new investments in the oil and gas sector for the first time in 2015, reaching approximately $350bn.

President of Ceres, a sustainability non-profit that works with large investors, Mindy Lubber said that “overall there is nothing good about” Mr Trump’s planned withdrawal.

She is concerned that a withdrawal would send the “wrong economic signal.”

But, she said there “is so much momentum” in states that investments will not dry up or go abroad where there will be a more clear and consistent commitment to clean energy.

She also said that cities and states are still committed to combating climate change as well, even Republican governors like Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, Phil Scott of Vermont, and governors of the states that control 40 per cent of the country’s GDP.

Ms Lubber noted that over a thousand US companies and several multi-billion dollar pension funds around the country have committed to taking their money away from fossil fuels and moving towards more sustainable forms of energy.

Thanu Yakupitiyage, US communications director of climate advocacy group, said that US businesses "outside of the coal industry...from high tech, like Google, Apple, and Facebook, to consumer facing brands like Best Buy and Walmart” have expressed a commitment to “go green” because of consumer demand and “the risks climate change poses to their supply chains; they understand that clean energy is ultimately cheaper than fossil fuels.”

Tesla's Elon Musk has threatened to quit White House advisory councils if the president pulls out. Mr Musk - who heads the electric car maker - said: “I've done all I can to advise directly” to Trump and through others in the White House.

The potential for a quick and clear commitment to the Paris agreement by the US has also been reduced by the fact that Mr Trump's advisers are split on the issue.

Senior adviser Steve Bannon, who wants Trump to focus on actions that will rev up his conservative political base, has long opposed it. Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and top adviser, has come to the view that the standards set out in the agreement did not work for the U.S. economy and the question was whether to try to change those standards within the agreement or pull out, another senior administration official said.

The expected withdrawal flies in the face of the advice of some of the respected Cabinet members like Defence Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, a former Exxon Mobil CEO, and even his own daughter Ivanka.

Mr Mattis and others in the Department of Defence (DoD) have noted that the Pentagon does a substantial amount of work addressing rising sea levels, changing sea routes for warships due to melting glaciers, and the effects of drought and floods on US national security interests.

Francesco Femia, Co-President of the Center for Climate and Security, a think tank of senior retired military officers and national security experts told The Independent that Mr Mattis also thinks climate change is a problem that needs to be solved by the whole of government, not just the DoD.

Climate change can impact military infrastructure, like bases in coastal areas around the world.

It can also have an indirect impact through not just “political penalties, but also strategic penalties,” said Mr Femia.

A withdrawal would make “it difficult to cooperate with allies and partners on a range of security issues,” he said.

Though he felt Mr Mattis would continue the work of the agency, he explained fighting and adapting to climate change is so important to allies in Nato, the EU, and especially countries in the Asia Pacific region who are concerned about increasing tensions in the South China Sea, that withdrawal "will not make DoD’s job easier.”

It sends the signal that "we don't care, we're not serious about addressing this global risk."

If leaders at the recent G7 summit intimated to Mr Trump that the US was crucial to the success of the deal, it may have opened the door to exercise some leverage and scale back commitments on emissions reductions.

The ripple effect of encouraging other countries, especially those relying on cheap coal to develop their fledgling economies, to do the same could be devastating to the planet.

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