Trump’s Plan to Renegotiate Climate Deal Unlikely to Succeed

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By Eric J. Lyman

President Donald Trump’s offer to renegotiate the U.S. re-entry into the Paris Agreement or to produce a “new transaction on terms fair to the United States” is probably a non-starter, according to key observers and parties to the Paris deal.

Major supporters of the Paris Agreement quickly indicated that they are not open to revisiting the landmark 2015 agreement reached by nearly 200 countries.

In an unusual move, the three largest continental European economies—France, Germany, and Italy—issued a joint statement in the wake of Trump’s remarks saying, “We firmly believe that the Paris Agreement cannot be renegotiated since it is a vital instrument for our planet, societies, and economies.”

According to a senior United Nations source, who asked not to be further identified, it makes little sense for the U.S. to withdraw from the Paris deal if its goal was simply to renegotiate U.S. obligations under the agreement.

“Each country’s NDC [nationally determined contribution, or pledge for climate action that is part of the Paris Agreement] is established by that country, and a country has the right to adjust its emissions reduction target or its financial commitments,” the U.N. source told Bloomberg BNA. “There is no need to withdraw from the Paris deal and then try to re-enter if that is the goal.”

The source admitted that other countries would have been critical of any party looking to “backslide” on its Paris Agreement targets, “but that is nothing compared to how critical countries are now.”

Formally, the secretariat for the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change said it is open to U.S. renegotiations, according to a statement issued following Trump’s remarks.

“The secretariat notes the announced intention to renegotiate the modalities for the U.S. participation in the agreement,” it said. “In this regard, it stands ready to engage in dialogue with the United States government regarding the implications of this announcement.”

But as a pact “signed by 194 countries and ratified by 147 countries,” the Paris Agreement “cannot be renegotiated based on the request of a single party,” the UNFCCC said.

Kyoto Comparison

“This idea that the U.S. will renegotiate some kind of alternative is really dead before it gets started,” said Niklas Hohne, a founding partner of the NewClimate Institute, a group that scientifically analyzes climate data. “The Paris Agreement was a culmination of 20 years of negotiation and I doubt countries will be willing to undo that, and even if they did, I don’t think Donald Trump is someone who could lead such a charge.”

In 2001, when the U.S. announced that it would withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol—the smaller scale predecessor to the Paris Agreement—President George W. Bush also vowed to produce an alternative to the Kyoto document.

That plan never gained traction, and ultimately, it was reduced to a 2002 proposal, which was never implemented, for the U.S. to reduce greenhouse gas emissions per unit of gross domestic product. The U.S. remained the only party to the Kyoto Protocol not to ratify it.

“I think the same thing will happen with the Trump idea of creating a something new or renegotiating the Paris deal,” Hohne said.

The senior U.N. source agreed: “I suspect the talk about renegotiating the Paris deal or creating a new alternative is probably a small concession to the White House figures who had been pushing Trump to stay in” the Paris Agreement, the source said.

Trump’s June 1 remarks about renegotiating what he called “a deal that is fair” illustrated that his own commitment to that strategy might be limited. “If we can, that’s great,” the president said. “And if we can’t, that’s fine.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Eric J. Lyman in Rome at correspondents@bna.com

To contact the editor, Greg Henderson at ghenderson@bna.com

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