The US Might Stay in the Paris Climate Agreement After All
“We want to be productive. We want to be helpful.”
As the 72nd United Nations General Assembly unfolds this week, US President Donald Trump may be looking to improve relationships with world leaders over key issues like climate change.
Earlier in the year, Trump earned criticism from heads of state as diverse as China’s Xi Jinping and Germany’s Angela Merkel when he announced his intention to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, a global pact to mitigate and adapt to climate change that includes every country in the world except Nicaragua and Syria.
The agreement strives to keep global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels.
Withdrawing is a multi-year process and now the administration may be considering making a reversal of sorts.
On CBS’s “Face the Nation” this past weekend, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson joined National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster to comment on a Wall Street Journal report suggesting the US was reconsidering its stance on the Paris accord.
The Journal reported that the US offered to “re-engage” with the accord at a conference in Montreal last week, and planned to meet to discuss possibilities during the United Nations General Assembly in New York this week.
“The U.S. has stated that they will not renegotiate the Paris accord, but they will try to review the terms on which they could be engaged under this agreement,” Miguel Arias Cañete, European Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy, told the WSJ.
The meeting during the UNGA would be held to “to assess what is the real US position,” Cañete said, “which is quite different to the one we heard from President Trump in the past.”
Tillerson and McMaster appeared to support the claims in that report on the TV show Sunday.
“The president said he is open to finding those conditions where we can remain engaged with others on what we all agree is still a challenging issue,” Tillerson said.
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They echoed Trump’s earlier demands that the agreement would have to become more favorable to US for it to remain, but they seemed to recognize how the country’s global reputation would be damaged if a withdrawal occurred.
Tillerson said economic adviser Gary Cohn was working on the issue.
“So I think the plan is for Director Cohn to consider other ways in which we can work with partners in the Paris climate accord, “ he said, according to The Guardian. “We want to be productive. We want to be helpful.”
The White House, however, insisted that the administration had not changed its mind.
Officials involved in the Paris climate agreement have asserted that no renegotiations that decrease responsibilities are possible.
“[The Paris agreement] can be updated but not weakened,” Jochen Flasbarth, the German environment ministry state secretary told The Guardian. “After all, current pledges are not sufficient to limit global warming to 2C, let alone 1.5C.”
Under the Paris climate agreement, former US President Barack Obama agreed to reduce its carbon emissions by 26% to 28% by 2025 from 2005 levels.
Central to Obama’s plan was the Clean Power Plan, a regulation to modernize power plants by phasing out pollution-heavy coal plants.
The Trump administration has begun the process of undoing this policy, along with many other environmental regulations.
So even if the Trump administration decided to stay in the agreement, it would be challenging for the country to reach its targets.
But there are several reasons for reconsidering.
For example, returning to the agreement would placate other world leaders who worry that climate change is unmanageable without US leadership.
And there’s the matter of risks and benefits. Trump said that the agreement overly burdens US citizens, but failing to confront climate change poses many current and future risks, including sea level rise, increasing temperatures, more severe storms, and more.
This is a point that the Pentagon recently emphasized when it committed to preparing for climate change.
As has been noted before, the Trump administration features several high-ranking military figures, including Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster.
During the Face the Nation interview, McMaster said that the US would change course only “if there’s an agreement that benefits the American people, certainly.”
Making sure climate change doesn’t accelerate beyond 2 degrees Celsius has clear benefits for the American people.