President Donald Trump announced Thursday afternoon that he is withdrawing the United States from the landmark Paris climate agreement, a move to honor a campaign pledge that dismayed America’s allies and thwarted the global effort to address the warming planet.
Trump’s decision alarmed leaders around the world, drawing swift and sharp condemnation from foreign officials as well as top U.S. environmentalists and corporate titans, who decried the U.S. exit from the Paris accord as an irresponsible abdication of American leadership.
But Trump cast his decision as a “reassertion of America’s sovereignty,” arguing that the climate pact as negotiated under President Barack Obama was grossly unfair to the U.S. workers he had vowed to protect with his populist “America First” campaign platform.
“I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris,” Trump proclaimed in a forceful, lengthy and at times rambling speech from the Rose Garden of the White House.
The United States now joins only two countries – Nicaragua and Syria – in opposing a climate agreement reached by all other nations in 2015. A signature diplomatic achievement for President Obama, the Paris accord was celebrated at the time as a universal response to the global warming crisis.
Trump argued Thursday that the deal had negative ramifications for domestic manufacturing and other industries, and put the United States at a “permanent disadvantage” with China, India and other rising powers. He said the agreement’s restrictions on future greenhouse gas emissions would be tantamount to putting America’s vast energy resources “under lock and key.”
The U.S. withdrawal of the Paris agreement cannot actually be finalized until near the end of Trump’s term. In a gesture to those who had encouraged him to remain in the accord, Trump said he was open to negotiating a new climate deal that, in his assessment, would be more fair to U.S. interests.
“In order to fulfill my solemn duty to protect America and its citizens, the United States will withdraw from the Paris climate accord but begin negotiations to reenter either the Paris accord or an entirely new transaction on terms that are fair to the United States, its businesses, its workers, its people, its taxpayers,” Trump said.
“We’re getting out,” he added, “but we will start to negotiate and we will see if we can make a deal that’s fair. If we can, that’s great. If we can’t, that’s fine.”
The leaders of France, Germany and Italy issued a joint statement voicing “regret” about Trump’s move, promising to redouble their efforts to implement the Paris agreement and asserting it cannot be renegotiated.
“We deem the momentum generated in Paris in December 2015 irreversible and we firmly believe that the Paris Agreement cannot be renegotiated, since it is a vital instrument for our planet, societies and economies,” read the statement from French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni.
Following Trump’s speech, Macron spoke with the president by phone for five minutes and “indicated that nothing was renegotiable in the Paris Accords,” according to a French official briefed on the conversation.
“The United States and France will continue to work together, but not on the subject of the climate,” the official added.
Erik Solheim, executive director of the United Nations Environment Program, said in an interview that “the biggest losers will be the American people.”
“It’s obviously regrettable,” he said. “The world needs American leadership. However, the impact is less than most people would believe, because China, India and Europe will provide leadership.”
Central to Trump’s rationale was his feeling that the United States had been taken advantage of. He argued that the Paris agreement would “punish” Americans and stymie economic growth. The president claimed that meeting the accord’s greenhouse gas emission standards would cost the United States close to $3 trillion in lost gross domestic product and 6.5 million industrial jobs.
Trump argued the Paris accord was so unfavorable to U.S. interests that other countries were laughing at America.
“The rest of the world applauded when we signed the Paris agreement,” Trump said. “They went wild. They were so happy. For the simple reason that it put our country, the United States of America, which we all love, at a very, very big economic disadvantage.”
The president, who recently returned from his maiden foreign trip, added, “We want fair treatment for its citizens and we want fair treatment for our taxpayers. We don’t want other leaders and other countries laughing at us anymore – and they won’t be.”
Obama strongly defended the Paris agreement as a measure to “protect the world we leave to our children.” In a statement released Thursday, he said it was the product of “steady, principled American leadership on the world stage,” pointing out that it had broad support from the private sector because the accord “opened the floodgates” for high-tech, low-carbon investment and innovation.
“I believe the United States of America should be at the front of the pack,” Obama said. “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.”
Gina McCarthy, Obama’s EPA administrator when the Paris agreement was negotiated, said in a statement: “It’s a disappointing and embarrassing day for the United States.”
The atmosphere in the Rose Garden was celebratory, with a military band performing “Summertime” and other jazz hits as Cabinet members, White House staffers, conservative activists and other Trump supporters took their seats in the garden under a bright sun.
The scene was a reflection of the deep divide within the Trump administration over Paris. The president took much of the spring to make up his mind amid an intense campaign by both sides to influence his decision.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and adviser, are among those who urged him to stay in the deal, arguing it would be beneficial to the United States to remain part of negotiations and meetings surrounding the agreement as a matter of leverage and influence. Neither was in attendance for Thursday’s ceremony.
White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt pushed for a withdrawal. When Trump announced that he would pull out, there was a burst of applause and some whoops from the assembled crowd in the Rose Garden – and Bannon held his hands up in the air, clapping enthusiastically.
Introducing Trump, Vice President Mike Pence said the climate decision was an example of the president putting what he sees as the interests of the United States above all else.
“Our president is choosing to put American jobs and American consumers first,” Pence said. “Our president is choosing to put American energy and American industry first. And by his action today, President Trump is choosing to put the forgotten men and women first.”
Pruitt later commended Trump for his “fortitude, courage and steadfastness” to exit the Paris accord and fulfill a campaign promise.
“You’re fighting for the forgotten men and women across this country,” Pruitt said of his boss. “This is an historic restoration of American economic independence.”
Condemnations of Trump’s decision were immediate and strongly-worded.
Former vice president Al Gore, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for his work raising awareness about global warming, said the president’s decision was “reckless and indefensible.”
“It undermines America’s standing in the world and threatens to damage humanity’s ability to solve the climate crisis in time,” Gore, who called Trump last month to try to persuade him to keep the United States in the Paris agreement, said in a statement.
Jeff Immelt, the chief executive of General Electric, tweeted: “Disappointed with today’s decision on the Paris Agreement. Climate change is real. Industry must now lead and not depend on government.”
In Europe, the top climate official at the European Union, Miguel Arias Canete, decried the U.S. action.
“A sad day for the global community, as the US turns its back on the fight against climate change. EU deeply regrets this unilateral decision,” Canete wrote on Twitter. “The EU will strengthen existing partnerships and seek new alliances from the world’s largest economies to the most vulnerable island states.”
A top German politician slammed Trump’s decision to pull out from the agreement, mocking him for his brusque brush-aside of a Balkan leader last week at a NATO meeting in Brussels.
“You can withdraw from a climate agreement but not from climate change, Mr. Trump,” Social Democratic leader Martin Schulz wrote on Twitter. “Reality isn’t just another statesman you shove away.”
On Capitol Hill, Democrats were fierce in their criticism. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., who regularly speaks from the Senate floor about the perils of global warming, said Trump was “betraying the country.”
“Ignoring reality and leaving the Paris Agreement could go down as one of the worst foreign policy blunders in our nation’s history,” Whitehouse said in a statement. “Trump is betraying the country, in the service of Breitbart fake news, the shameless fossil fuel industry, and the Koch brothers’ climate denial operation. It’s sad.”
But Republican congressional leaders praised Trump’s move.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a statement, “I applaud President Trump and his administration for dealing yet another significant blow to the Obama Administration’s assault on domestic energy production and jobs.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said, “The Paris climate agreement was simply a raw deal for America . . . I commend President Trump for fulfilling his commitment to the American people and withdrawing from this bad deal.”
More than 190 nations agreed to the accord in December 2015 in Paris, and 147 have since formally ratified or otherwise joined it, including the United States – representing more than 80 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.
It’s also heavily backed by U.S. and global corporations, including oil giants Royal Dutch Shell, ExxonMobil and BP. Large corporations, especially those operating in international markets, have had years to get used to the idea that there are likely to be reductions on carbon emissions, and they have been adapting their businesses accordingly for some time.
Withdrawing the United States from the agreement could take years due to the accord’s legal structure and language, but such a move would weaken its goals almost immediately. The United States is the world’s second-largest greenhouse gas emitter and would otherwise have accounted for 21 percent of the total emissions reductions achieved by the accord through 2030.
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Philip Rucker, Jenna Johnson