Trump Vow to Keep Door Open to Climate Deal Convinces Few

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By Dean Scott

President Donald Trump’s vow to keep the door open to an international climate deal—even as he notifies the UN the U.S. is out—rings hollow given he has long derided it as bad for the economy.

“Some are suggesting they’re leaving that door open. I think that’s a sideshow,” Nat Keohane, who was special assistant for energy and environment in President Obama’s National Economic Council, told Bloomberg BNA.

The Trump administration formally notified the UN Aug. 4 that it plans to leave the 2015 Paris climate pact reached by more than 190 nations. The administration has hinted it’s open to rejoining the deal, but environmental groups and even some business advocates suggest that’s just for show.

“They’re announcing the direction they want to take, which is a firm ‘we’re getting out.’ In my mind that leaves no room” to assume Trump would entertain rejoining the pact at a later date, said Keohane, who is now head of the Environmental Defense Fund’s global climate program.

Trump has repeatedly pledged to pull out of the Paris climate deal, the first to include actions from developing as well as developed nations, saying it will unfairly penalize the U.S. However, in originally announcing the withdrawal June 1, Trump suggested he would be willing to rejoin the pact on terms more favorable to the U.S. The White House and the State Department had been negotiating the wording of the withdrawal letter for weeks, according to sources familiar with the effort, which in recent versions included language suggesting the U.S. could still re-enter the deal at a later date.

But even some industry-friendly groups that support pulling out of the Paris deal see that language as a red herring.

“As far as including re-entry language, it doesn’t bother me,” Myron Ebell, energy and environment director at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, told Bloomberg BNA.

Such conciliatory language is likely a concession to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and other administration officials who favor staying in the climate pact, he said.

“Well, that side is now 0-2” after failing to convince Trump to stay in the Paris pact and now failing to keep him from sending a formal letter to the UN formalizing that decision, he said.

“What that tells me is they are able...to give the appearance that there was a good debate to the media,” he said.

Letter Comes Years Early

The State Department released a statement late Aug. 4 confirming that the U.S. has “submitted a communication” to the UN “regarding the U.S. intent to withdraw from the Paris Agreement as soon as it is eligible to do so, consistent with the terms” of the climate accord.

Sending such a letter now—the United Nations does not actually require notification to leave the agreement until 2019 under the Paris Agreement—is seen by many as premature.

“What this move suggests is the exact opposite, that Trump is moving recklessly to signal a retreat from the world ahead of schedule,” Heather Coleman, director of Oxfam America’s climate and energy program, told Bloomberg BNA.

Countries that signed on to the Paris deal agreed to language requiring them to wait at least three years before beginning a formal withdrawal from the accord. That would mean the U.S. technically has to wait until 2019 to send that notice, a sort of three-year cooling-off period dating from the pact’s entry into force in November 2016.

The text of the Paris agreement actually says that the UN is only to consider such a withdrawal after that cooling-off period has expired. A spokesman for the UN secretary-general’s office said Aug. 4 that it had not yet received formal notification from the U.S. of its intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement.

The State Department did not release the text of the letter, but it sought to suggest that Trump “is open to re-engaging in the Paris Agreement if the United States can identify terms that are more favorable to it, its businesses, its workers, its people, and its taxpayers.” However, suggestions the U.S. could return to the table are not likely to be embraced by other parties to the agreement.

“We’ve been hearing from other countries in recent weeks that the president remains open to the possibility of renegotiation as long as it has not formally withdrawn from the agreement itself,” Coleman said.

Pledge of Continued Participation

The State Department stressed in its statement that U.S. “will continue to participate in international climate change negotiations and meetings,” including the next UN climate summit in November, talks which serve as the 23rd Conference of the Parties (COP-23) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The U.S. will still be at the table, the department said, “to protect U.S. interests and ensure all future policy options remain open to the administration. Such participation will include ongoing negotiations related to guidance for implementing the Paris Agreement,” it said.

Withdrawing from the deal, Ebell said, just acknowledges that Trump’s rollback of climate policies means the U.S. will almost surely miss its Paris pledge to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025.

“In that sense, this formal notification is essentially formalizing the material reality, which is that the [president’s] deregulatory actions and economic revival means more emissions” and that the U.S. couldn’t possibly meet its Paris pledge, Ebell said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Dean Scott in Washington at dscott@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rachael Daigle at rdaigle@bna.com

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