Energy & Environment

Trump climate move risks unraveling Paris commitments

President Trump’s climate change order has thrown a wrench into the Paris climate deal. 

Trump on Tuesday signed an executive order undoing most of the major climate work Barack Obama pursued as president. 

The order didn’t touch the Paris agreement, an international pact on greenhouse gas emissions that Obama pursued aggressively during his second term. But it begins the process of ending the electricity-sector pollution regulation Obama said would help fulfill U.S. commitments, a decision that underlines Trump’s dismissal of the agreement. 

There is internal debate in the Trump administration about the importance of staying in the Paris deal. But Tuesday’s order — and other measures Trump has advanced during his presidency — indicates he’s ready to leave it behind, formally or not.


“This is like a runner on a track,” David Waskow, the international climate director at the World Resources Institute, said of the order’s impact on U.S. climate work. 

“The runner is going to keep moving forward, but someone is on the edge of the track throwing all sorts of objects in the way.”

Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized the Clean Power Plan in 2015. It aims to cut pollution from the electricity sector as a way to help achieve Obama’s ambitious goal in the Paris agreement: a 26 percent to 28 percent reduction in total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2025

Trump’s Tuesday order only mandates a review of the Clean Power Plan. But he and his administration aggressively oppose it, indicating it’s likely to come off the books after the review. 

Undoing the regulation would undermine federal efforts to meet Obama’s Paris goal, unraveling the U.S. commitments under the pact.   

“Without the Clean Power Plan, it will be impossible to achieve the U.S. [pledge] under the Paris agreement,” Robert Stavins, the director of the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements, said in an email. “It would have been difficult even with the Clean Power Plan.” 

Trump’s climate order emboldened critics of the Paris deal. 

“I think the U.S. ought to withdraw from the climate agreement in Paris,” Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said on Tuesday.

“I think it was a mistake by President Obama, and since he chose not to bring it to the Senate for confirmation, it’s clearly not a treaty, so I’m for withdrawing from it completely.”

Trump’s industry allies, while praising the details of the order itself, said the administration also needs to move quickly to get out of the Paris accord. 

“We urge the president to fulfill his campaign promises to remove the U.S. from the Paris agreement,” said former Trump transition official Thomas Pyle, the president of the American Energy Alliance, which receives some fossil fuel funding. 

“Failure to do so could risk the remainder of President Trump’s attempts to rein in the regulatory state and undo the harmful climate policies of the previous administration.”

The order garnered criticism from Democrats, greens and officials who worked to forge the deal in 2015. 

“The action by the U.S. to undo important domestic carbon reduction regulation, in the face of the enormous momentum building globally toward a low carbon economy, risks putting the country on a back-foot at a time when most Americans are looking to lead,” said Christiana Figueres, the former executive secretary of the United Nation’s climate office. 

“This decision will make things harder, not easier, for Americans.”

Nixing the emissions rule is Trump’s latest and clearest sign that he’s ready to leave the Paris deal in the dust, even if he doesn’t formally take the U.S. out of the agreement. 

In his budget proposal, Trump proposed ending federal funding for several international climate change accounts, including the Paris deal’s Green Climate Fund. Obama had pledged $3 billion for the program, but he was only able to spend $1 billion on it while in office. 

During the campaign, Trump was hostile to the Paris deal, saying he would, at least, renegotiate it and even consider leaving the pact once he became president. 

The White House’s rhetoric on the agreement has changed. On Monday night, an administration official said the status of the deal was “still under discussion,” though the official acknowledged Obama’s climate goals under the pact are likely dead. 

“We have a different view about how you should address climate policies in the United States,” the official said. “So we’re going to go in a different direction. I can’t get into what ultimately that means from an emissions standpoint. I have no idea.”

There is a dispute among Trump officials about how to address the climate deal. 

Some, like Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, have said the U.S. should stay in the climate deal and not lose “our seat at the table.” Others, though, deeply oppose the agreement: EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt last weekend called it a “bad deal” because the United States’ goals are more aggressive than other high-polluting nations. 

Republicans say it doesn’t need to be a choice between staying in the Paris deal and dropping out.

Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), who called Tuesday “the most significant day yet in the Trump presidency,” is circulating a letter encouraging the administration to stay in the Paris deal, but only if certain conditions are met, including rolling back Obama’s greenhouse gas targets.

Cramer, an energy adviser for Trump during the presidential campaign, said staying in the deal is “probably the direction it’s going” at the White House.

“My preference would still be to get out of it, but I see the value of staying in it,” Cramer said. “I would not call it a loss if we don’t get out of Paris, if we impose more of our will on the accord.”

Tags Barack Obama John Barrasso

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