On the campaign trail, President Donald Trump repeatedly said he’d pull the US from the global Paris climate agreement, the 194-nation accord to combat climate change.
And now that he’s president, people who care about the future of the planet are eager to know if he’ll follow through on that threat.
But now, according to the New York Times, it appears a schism has opened up in the Trump administration, making the upcoming decision hard to predict. One faction is calling for Trump to exit the agreement, while another is making the case for keeping a “seat at the table.”
The pro-Paris side is led by his daughter, Ivanka Trump, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who believe withdrawal from the agreement would burn too many bridges.
The anti-Paris side is led by White House chief strategist, Steve Bannon, who believes that global coalitions are harmful to US interests and that Trump should fulfill campaign promises.
“There’s really no obligation,” Sen. Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said to The New York Times in an interview. “It doesn’t require us to do anything. I think they may take a little time to assess whether pulling out makes sense now.”
During his campaign to be president, Trump disparaged the agreement, lumping it together with the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal, which he ripped up soon after taking office.
Unlike removal from TPP, which did not bear significant political costs and is still in the negotiating process, leaving the Paris agreement could deal a major blow to the country’s global standing, signalling to the world that the US is unwilling to cooperate on the biggest issues facing the planet and own up to its global responsibilities.
The Paris agreement is not legally binding, so the US can stay within the agreement and just not live up to its promises. This would maintain the structure of the agreement for other nations, and allow future administrations to continue climate change action if they choose to.
In other words, remaining a member would not compromise any of Trump’s domestic priorities, such as rolling back Obama-era climate regulations like Clean Power Plan, which is at the heart of the US plan for dealing with climate change.
On the other hand, withdrawing would be politically damaging for the US and would have no clear benefits outside of fulfilling a campaign promise. Further, exiting the agreement is a lengthy, four-year process.
How this decision plays out will shine a light on which power dynamics are winning in the new administration, and potentially give some sense of direction going forward.