After months of delays, President Trump faces a self-imposed deadline to decide the future of U.S. involvement in the Paris Climate Accords after taking stock of the deal during his first trip abroad this week.
The president’s aides, his Cabinet members and foreign leaders have pulled Trump in conflicting directions on the climate deal, which former President Barack Obama helped negotiate at the United Nations in 2015. The 195-nation pact aimed to prevent the increase in global warming from climbing more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and committed the U.S. to lowering its greenhouse gas emissions by somewhere between 26 and 28 percent before 2025.
Trump has three basic options for handling the Paris Climate Accords, each backed by different members of his administration. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt has emerged as a leading voice for withdrawing completely, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has advocated for remaining in the deal, and Energy Secretary Rick Perry has voiced support for renegotiating the terms of the agreement. Various White House aides and lawmakers have split themselves among the three camps as internal debates have dragged on for weeks longer than initially anticipated.
Now, the administration faces a new deadline to decide to the future of the climate deal.
“The president has been meeting with his team for quite a while on this matter, and he will not be making an announcement regarding that agreement until after he returns from the G7,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said on May 9.
Trump’s latest delay will expose him to pressure from Group of Seven leaders, all of whom support the deal, during an upcoming G7 summit in Sicily on May 26. The international community will likely analyze every word Trump says about the climate pact this week now that the White House has made his decision contingent on information he receives at the summit.
Trump and his team have delayed a series of meetings intended to air arguments for and against remaining in the agreement. When the president’s travel schedule postponed the first such meeting in mid-April, White House aides stressed that the discussions would still take place at a later date. However, other planned meetings — with the president himself and between top officials, such as Ivanka Trump and Pruitt — also failed to materialize.
Thomas Pyle, president of the Institute for Energy Research and former head of Trump’s energy transition, said the latest postponement is likely a signal that the president has not yet made up his mind about how he should approach the climate deal.
“There’s a lot of other stuff going on, so I’m guessing they’re not thinking about it 24/7,” Pyle told the Washington Examiner. “I think the latest delay shows that there’s … various camps that have formed in the White House on the issue and that they weren’t prepared to make a decision.”
“I think the significance [of the delay] is that he wasn’t prepared to make a decision, and so it doesn’t make sense to do anything else with it until he gets back from the summit,” Pyle added. “He’ll hear from some other perspectives on it, and it may or may not influence his position.”
Within the West Wing, Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, a senior adviser, have pushed the president to leave the U.S. role in the climate agreement untouched. Others, such as chief strategist Steve Bannon, have encouraged Trump to reconsider America’s participation. And Don McGahn, White House counsel, has warned Trump that staying in the deal while simultaneously rolling back Obama-era environmental regulations at home could expose the administration to legal challenges from opponents suing to uphold the terms of the accords.
“From my perspective, if it turns out that they make some sort of a statement that they intend to renegotiate, I think that’s synonymous with a withdrawal because I don’t think that the remaining parties to the agreement will accept any scenario where the U.S. pulls back on its commitments,” Pyle said.
Supporters of the Paris agreement have argued that removing the U.S. from it could have diplomatic repercussions because many world leaders now view climate change as a bellwether issue for American leadership. Some have also noted that withdrawing from the deal could have implications for Trump’s relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping, who strongly supports the climate pact and who has publicly hinted at his desire for the U.S. to remain in it.
Mindful of those concerns, some advisers, including Perry, have encouraged Trump to seek a middle ground that would allow him to soften a rebuke from Democrats and the international community while still lightening the economic burden of the U.S. commitments under the accords as currently written.
Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., who has advised Trump on energy policy, has urged Trump to leave the U.S. in the climate pact and instead “use its seat at the Paris table” to promote American economic interests and “prevent the development of harmful policies.”
“I think it’s interesting that the proponents of this agreement are all of a sudden saying that that’s an option for the U.S. when it’s clear from the literature and the intent” that renegotiating the terms of America’s participation in the accords was never really an option, Pyle noted.
During the presidential race, Trump vowed to scrap the climate pact as part of his overall efforts to undo Obama’s environmental rules.
“We’re going to cancel the Paris Climate Agreement and stop all payments of U.S. tax dollars to U.N. global warming programs,” Trump said during a May 2016 campaign speech in North Dakota.
He has since wavered in his opposition to the deal.
Trump predicted during an interview with the Washington Examiner in late April that he would make a decision on the Paris deal “over the next two weeks.” But that self-imposed deadline came and went without a verdict on the future of the accords.
At the time, Trump acknowledged that he had already received input from Cabinet members and high-level aides about the spectrum of options before him.
“Well, I’ve heard them all,” Trump said. “You have all three: you have pull out, renegotiate, stay in. But the one thing everybody agrees to is that we are being, as usual, we are paying an inordinate share beyond any bounds of reasonableness, and other countries are not. We got taken to the cleaners financially.”
Obama transferred $1 billion to the U.N.’s Green Climate Fund before leaving office and had pledged billions more to the fund through the Paris deal. It is unclear whether Trump will honor those financial commitments.