Donald Trump has announced the withdrawal of the US from the Paris agreement on climate change, saying he wants to “renegotiate” a fairer deal that would not disadvantage US businesses and workers.
Mr Trump, who has made pulling out of the pact – which has been signed by almost 200 nations – a central plank of his run for the presidency, said that in withdrawing he was keeping his campaign promise to put American workers first.
He said that “if we can get a deal, that’s great. If not, that’s fine.”
The President had been put under extreme pressure by allies around the world to stay in the agreement, and although the administration said his views on the subject were “evolving” – having previously claimed climate change was a “hoax” – Mr Trump refused to be backed into a corner.
He said he wants to talk to citizens of “Pittsburgh, not Paris” to cheers in the crowd of the Rose Garden at the White House.
However, in a blow to Mr Trump, the nations of France, Germany and Italy put out a statement saying that the Paris deal was “not renegotiable”. That statement followed a swift outcry from politicians including the former US President Barack Obama, Bernie Sanders and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who said that she regretted Mr Trump’s decision but she would continue to work hard to “save the Earth”.
Mr Trump has said that the deal would hit the US coal industry hard and that it would prove “too costly” for the country to stick to the Paris accord to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But Mr Trump ignores the fact that new money in renewable energy outpaced new investments in fossil fuels for the first time in 2015 to the tune of $350bn.
During the campaign, Mr Trump said the accord would cost the US economy trillions of dollars with no tangible benefit. Vice President Mike Pence said that Mr Trump was putting “American energy first”.
However, the numbers Mr Trump presented – notably losing 2.7 million jobs by 2025 – are inaccurate and do not take into account normal job rate loss and creation, jobs shifting towards more “green” sectors, and the tangible benefits of cleaner air, water, and less risk of natural disasters along US coastlines.
He also cited how “down” several industries had become recently: cement, iron, steel, natural gas, and coal – “and I happen to love the coal miners”, he said. He failed to note that the renewable energy industry grew leaps and bounds and provided nearly 64 per cent of all new electricity generating capacity constructed in the US in 2015, according to the US Department of Energy.
At the start of his announcement on the climate deal, Mr Trump was at pains to point out the “tremendous” progress the US economy has made since his election in November – as well as the progress he had made on trade deals with partners around the world.
He blamed the “tough trade practices” that other countries employed during the Obama administration for the US losing trillions of dollars, but did not present any evidence of it.
White House talking points stated that the Paris accord “was negotiated poorly by the Obama Administration and signed out of desperation”. Mr Trump called it “another example of Washington entering an agreement that disadvantages the US”.
Pulling out of the agreement outright would take four years under the standard cooling-off period for new international treaties – the route Mr Trump is likely to take, but he said that the US is out “as of today”.
While travelling abroad last week, Mr Trump was repeatedly pressed to stay in the deal by European leaders and the Pope.
American corporate leaders have also appealed to the businessman-turned-president to stay in the pact. They include Apple, Google and Walmart. Even fossil fuel companies such as Exxon Mobil, BP and Shell say the United States should abide by the deal.
In a Berlin speech, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said that fighting climate change is a “global consensus” and an “international responsibility”.
“China in recent years has stayed true to its commitment,” said Mr Li.
Richard Gowan, a UN expert with the European Council on Foreign Relations, told The Independent that Mr Trump “may not care, but he has just created an astonishing opportunity for the Chinese to assert themselves in the UN system”.
Last year was the warmest since records began in the 19th century, as global average temperatures continued a rise dating back decades that leading climate scientists attribute to man-made greenhouse gas emissions that trap heat in the atmosphere.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres tweeted on Thursday, “Climate action is not just the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do.”
In Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who pressed Mr Trump to stay in the pact last week at a meeting of the Group of Seven (G7) nations, described the accord as essential and said she was pleased many other governments agreed.
A recent report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) shows that the world’s economies could boost economic growth by nearly three per cent by 2021 if they institute policies that would lower greenhouse gas emissions. By 2050 that growth could reach up to five per cent.
Mr Trump met on Wednesday with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who has favoured remaining in the agreement. Chief strategist Steve Bannon supports an exit, as does Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt.
Mr Trump’s chief economic adviser, Gary Cohn, had discussed the possibility of changing the US carbon reduction targets instead of pulling out of the deal completely. His son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner generally thinks the deal is bad but still would like to see if emissions targets can be changed.
Scientists say the Earth is likely to reach more dangerous levels of warming sooner if the US retreats from its pledge because America contributes so much to rising temperatures. Calculations suggest withdrawal could result in emissions of up to 3 billion tonnes of additional carbon dioxide in the air a year – enough to melt ice sheets faster, raise seas higher and trigger more extreme weather.
The Vatican, which under Pope Francis’ insistence has strongly backed the accord, sees a US exit as a disaster and “a huge slap in the face”, Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, a senior Vatican official, told the Rome newspaper La Repubblica.
During their meeting last month, the Pope gave Mr Trump a signed copy of his 2015 encyclical letter calling for the protection of the environment from climate change. The letter also included scientific evidence that climate change is caused by human activity.
Neither the pontiff’s influence nor any discussions with world leaders seemed to have had any bearing on Mr Trump. “They don’t put America first. I do and always will,” is Mr Trump’s resounding message to world.
Mr Trump repeatedly said the Paris deal would hurt US jobs, the economy, and the “forgotten men and women” of America.
But, Mr Trump’s own Secretary of State Rex Tillerson – a former Exxon Mobil CEO – urged him to stay in the deal because reducing emissions and job growth can occur simultaneously.
Secretary of Defence James Mattis has also told Mr Trump that withdrawing from the Paris Agreement would make the job of the Pentagon more difficult. Mr Mattis believes that adapting to a warming planet should be addressed by the whole government to reduce the country’s security risks.
Francesco Femia, Co-President of the Center for Climate and Security, a think tank of senior retired military officers and national security experts, told The Independent that Mr Trump’s decision will make “it difficult to cooperate with allies and partners on a range of security issues”.
Mr Trump said it was his “solemn duty to protect US citizens” and that is why he is pulling the US from the accord. But according to Mr Femia, the President’s decision creates “political penalties, but also strategic penalties” to America’s safety.
In “making America great again”, Mr Trump took a swipe at India, China, and the entire developing world. He said India makes its participation in the Paris deal “contingent on billions and billions of foreign aid”. This assertion is not wholly inaccurate, but the President failed to recognise that India is a developing nation with a poor infrastructure to deal with a changing climate.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also made the country’s solar power production and use a top priority for his administration, joining international alliances and investing domestic and foreign funds into a variety of projects.
Mr Trump also complained about China, lamenting that they are “allowed to open hundreds of coal mines … They can double [coal production] but we have to reduce ours” by 2020. However, this is by design.
China signed a bliateral deal with the US under the Obama administration – ahead of the Paris signing – and estimated they would need until 2030 to reach a “peak” of carbon emissions – mostly through inexpensive coal burning – in order to build up their economy to a point where they can afford to start transitioning to more renewable sources of energy. After that time, China will begin to reduce carbon emissions and increase the proportion of renewable sources of energy. They are already a leader in solar panel production.
Mr Trump’s comment that he wants “burdens … Equally shared by countries all around the world” in a renegotiated deal shows a lack of understanding of the agreement, which was formulated in a way to account for the historical climate damage done by wealthy countries to poorer countries. The deal also includes provisions to help developing countries grow their economies without over-relying on the same fossil fuel method.
White House officials said that the withdrawal agreement will be consistent with what is required as part of the Paris agreement, which is that the pact needs to be enforced for three years before a year-long process of formal withdrawal begins. However officials said that “the President will not…do anything to implement the current pledge”.