WASHINGTON: Building suspense about America's role in the world, President Donald Trump planned to announce Thursday whether the U.S. would stay in a global climate pact. The White House signaled withdrawal was likely, but Trump has been known to change his mind at the last minute on such major decisions.
Abandoning the pact was one of Trump's principal campaign pledges, but America's allies have expressed alarm about the likely consequences. Top White House aides have been divided, and Trump's decision may not be entirely clear-cut. Aides have been deliberating on "caveats in the language," one official said.
Trump said Wednesday he was still listening to "a lot of people both ways." The former reality TV star with a flair for drama later promoted his Rose Garden announcement in a tweet.
The White House invited representatives from several groups that support withdrawing from the Paris accord, including staff from the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank with close ties to the administration, and Myron Ebell, director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a libertarian think tank that gets financial support from the fossil fuel industry.
Trump has several potential options. Some of his aides have been searching for a middle ground in an effort to thread the needle between his base of supporters who oppose the deal for fear it will hamper U.S. economic growth and those warning that a U.S. exit would deal a blow to the fight against global warming as well as to worldwide U.S. leadership.
The president could decide to stay in the treaty, but adjust the voluntary U.S. targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Former President Barack Obama had agreed to reduce the country's emissions to 26 percent to 28 percent of 2005 levels by 2025 — about 1.6 billion tons. Countries are permitted under the treaty to change their goals and there is no punishment for missing targets.
The president could also announce that he will begin formally pulling out of the accord outright — a process that would take three-and-a-half years under the standard cooling-off period for new international treaties. Or he could invoke a more dramatic option and choose to pull the U.S. out of both the Paris accord and the larger United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which the U.S. ratified in 1992 under Republican President George H.W. Bush. That option would provide a fast track and could be done in a year, but would deny the U.S. a future seat at the table, locking the country out of future climate talks.
Abandoning the Paris pact would isolate the U.S. from a raft of international allies who spent years negotiating the 2015 agreement to fight global warming and pollution by reducing carbon emissions in nearly 200 nations. While traveling abroad last week, Trump was repeatedly pressed to stay in the deal by European leaders and the pope. Withdrawing would leave the United States aligned only with Russia among the world's industrialized economies.
American corporate leaders have also appealed to the businessman-turned-president to stay in the pact. They include Apple, Google and Walmart. Even fossil fuel companies such as Exxon Mobil, BP and Shell say the United States should abide by the deal.
In a Berlin speech, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said that fighting climate change is a "global consensus" and an "international responsibility."
"China in recent years has stayed true to its commitment," said Li, speaking in Berlin Wednesday.
A formal withdrawal would take years, experts say, a situation that led the president of the European Commission to speak dismissively of Trump on Wednesday.
Trump doesn't "comprehensively understand" the terms of the accord, though European leaders tried to explain the process for withdrawing to him "in clear, simple sentences" during summit meetings last week, Jean-Claude Juncker said in Berlin. "It looks like that attempt failed," Juncker said. "This notion, 'I am Trump, I am American, America first and I am getting out,' that is not going to happen."
That fight has played out within the Trump administration. Trump met Wednesday with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who has favored remaining in the agreement. Chief strategist Steve Bannon supports an exit, as does Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt.
Trump's chief economic adviser, Gary Cohn, has discussed the possibility of changing the U.S. carbon reduction targets instead of pulling out of the deal completely. Senior adviser Jared Kushner generally thinks the deal is bad but still would like to see if emissions targets can be changed.
Trump's influential daughter Ivanka Trump's preference is to stay, but she has made it a priority to establish a review process so her father would hear from all sides, said a senior administration official. Like the other officials, that person was not authorized to describe the private discussions by name and spoke only on condition of anonymity.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said Wednesday in Alaska that he had "yet to read what the actual Paris Agreement is," and would have to read it before weighing in.
Scientists say Earth is likely to reach more dangerous levels of warming sooner if the U.S. retreats from its pledge because America contributes so much to rising temperatures. Calculations suggest withdrawal could result in emissions of up to 3 billion tons of additional carbon dioxide in the air a year — enough to melt ice sheets faster, raise seas higher and trigger more extreme weather.