US President Donald Trump has openly disparaged the Paris climate agreement, claiming that he would “cancel” it if elected, and appointing an outspoken opponent of climate change action, Scott Pruitt, to lead the Environmental Protection Agency.
But it appears his disdain for the agreement has receded. In an interview with The New York Times in December, he recalibrated his stance, saying that he now had an “open mind” about the plan that involves nearly 200 countries.
It could be that he recognized the agreement’s mostly symbolic nature. It doesn’t ask that much of the US — it’s a voluntary arrangement that encourages countries to continue existing efforts to become more sustainable with the ultimate goal of avoiding a global temperature increase of 2 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels.
While Trump campaigned on an “America-first” platform, pulling out of the Paris agreement could damage the country’s standing in the world by highlighting how the US is unable to lead on arguably the most pressing problem facing the planet.
But the main motivation likely comes from the business community.
Trump’s criticisms of environmental regulations have been couched in economic terms — that they prevent companies from reaching their full potential by entangling them in pointless regulation, allowing billions in economic value to go to waste.
But the business community is overwhelmingly in support of the Paris climate agreement and broader climate actions.
Following the inauguration, more than 745 companies representing nearly 2 million employees signed a letter calling on Trump to honor the agreement’s commitments. More than half of the S&P 500 companies — the top performing public companies — advocate for climate action.
Even ExxonMobil supports the agreements. So, too, do Monsanto, Dupont, and Unilever — corporate juggernauts that have large carbon footprints.
"ExxonMobil supports the work of the Paris signatories, acknowledges the ambitious goals of this agreement and believes the company has a constructive role to play in developing solutions," the company said in a statement.
Energy providers, the supposed beneficiaries of a repeal, have no position on the agreement, according to The Los Angeles Times, and have even already begun the transition to a renewable economy.
And then there have been the parade of big names calling on Trump to change his position — Leonardo DiCaprio, Al Gore, and former president Barack Obama.
Plus, his own cabinet members are less than enthused about ripping up the plan. His secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, and ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, do not support a repeal, according to the Times.
The many-voiced coalition for the Paris agreement could make Trump realize that abandoning the plan is too politically costly.
Regardless of where he ultimately comes down on the deal, it’s not like he can just sign his name and be done with it. The nature of the deal means that the US has to go through a four-year withdrawal process before it can exit. Instead, he will likely focus on undoing other climate achievements, such as the Clean Power Plan. And by the time that happens, campaign season will be in full swing again.