The Paris Climate Agreement Should We Stay or Should We Go?
(This is and update of the previously posted article.)
Predictably there’s been a lot written over the last few weeks about the Paris Climate Agreement and whether the Trump administration will continue to sit with other nations.
Driving the coverage is the on-again off-again meeting between Trump and a pace of senior advisors. The ultimate decision will remain for The Donald to make--purportedly after the G-7 summit at the end of May.
Trumpeters are divided. EPA Administrator Pruitt leads the leaver, while Secretary of State Tillerson and the Kushners—Jared and Ivanka--are shepherding those advising to stay.
Pruitt believes remaining a signatory to the Paris agreement will be used as grounds to challenge the administration’s recent roll back of environmental regulations, including the hold put on the Clean Power Plan. Tillerson is wary of increased diplomatic pressures, should Trump decide to renounce the agreement. Interestingly, both are right.
It is important to be clear about what is really being decided. It’s reported that the question is whether the U.S. will continue to honor the obligations made by President Obama.
While technically that might be right—in reality that train has left the station. Given the slew of executive orders Trump has signed directing EPA to cancel, suspend, roll back and reconsider dozens of environmental regulations, the administration has already declared its intentions.
Add to this: the Secretary of Energy’s recent order to prepare a study report about base load generation and the implication of a tilts towards wind and solar; the proposed slash and burn of federal clean energy and climate change programs; and the administration’s widespread purging of any references to climate change or suggestion of human culpability.
These are not the actions of an administration intending to reduce aggressively carbon emissions. Intentions matter—despite what my mother had to say.
I realize I may be an outlier on this; but, the only good I see coming from the U.S. continuing to occupy space at the table accrues to the Trump administration. It’s not as if the administration intends to honor Obama’s commitments.
Should the decision be to remain, Trump will claim he has always been and environmentalist and perhaps succeed in fooling some of the people at least some of the time.
I understand others are hoping that by keeping the company of climate defenders Trump and his key advisors will come to believe climate change is real and must be aggressively combated.
This might be called the “company you keep” theory of conversion. My opinion on that: it’s a load of crap—and not the kind you put into a digester. It has as much chance of succeeding as my becoming a Prius simply by standing next to one.
Conversion by osmosis doesn’t happen in the real world. The denier’s chorus has already indicated nothing will convince them that the Earth is under threat by anything we do.
I wrote back in October an article suggesting that there was no comfort to be found in the finer points of law and diplomacy, should Trump be victorious in November. Once in office, DJT could still mess with the Paris Agreement.
At the time I wrote:
The real threat to combat global climate is Trump’s vow to:
Trump’s decision to stay at the table in Paris, while doing next to nothing at home, is a win-win for Trump. That it’s a loss for the rest of the world is of little matter to him. If ever a president needed a victory to show his supporters, Donald do.
Trump has cellar popularity numbers and is facing a conservative Republican rebellion because of failed healthcare reforms, engagement in Syria, an implied willingness to cooperate with Democrats, and a seeming preference for the Wall Street crowd—including Gary Cohn. Cohn is Director of the National Economic Council, on the record in support of Paris, an ally of Jared Kushner and thought by Bannon as a conservative antichrist.
Increasing pressure from the right will be brought to bear on Trump between now and Congress’ summer recess. Although his base still supports him, many established and powerful conservatives—in and out of Congress—have their doubts.
These next few weeks will also bring forth a clearer picture of Trump’s tax and infrastructure proposals. They will also show whether Ryan and McConnell have even a chance of getting the proposals through the Congressional gauntlet without being eviscerated by members of their own party. Even before tax and infra-structure the Senate’s refusal to pass the revised healthcare bill will set off alarms.
So, what’s a boy to do? If that boy has orange hair and is the 45th President of the United States, he’ll reach out to keep his base happy.
One of the most galvanizing phrases in the Republican lexicon is: we don’t need no lousy environmental regulations. For a president needing to prove to his core he still has it, dismantling federal clean energy and environment programs is a sure winner. Divesture of these programs and policies renders the current U.S. Intended Nationally Determined Contributions moot. As it is, existing commitments by the U.S. and the other 200 or so parties to the Paris agreement are unlikely to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius.
Interestingly some major players in the oil, gas and coal industries are urging continued support for Paris. Peter Trelenberg, Exxon’s manager for environmental policy, wrote in a letter:
It is prudent that the United States remain a party to the Paris agreement to ensure a level playing field, so that global energy markets remain as
free and competitive as possible.
Joining Exxon are BP and Royal Dutch Shell. Chevron is more circumspect indicating it will withhold judgement until it better understands the impact of a yes on the administration’s domestic policies and programs. The American Petroleum Institute, has taken no formal position.
Natural gas is playing a prominent role in carbon reduction efforts around the world. Their support for Paris is not particularly surprising, therefore. Cheniere and other natural gas suppliers also see staying seated at the table as a useful instrument for fostering demand for America’s energy resources…
A bit quizzical is the willingness of Cloud Peak Energy Inc. and Peabody Energy Corp. to publicly favor the Agreement. Coal companies are of a mind that support for Paris increases the likelihood the federal government will be more willing to invest in carbon capture research and demonstration.
They may be right. Although the argument for further development of capture systems can stand on its own with the administration. In any event the world needs to figure out how to capture and keep carbon before it is emitted into the atmosphere; there are significant business opportunities to be had should it achieve commercial viability.
Endorsement of the Paris agreement by oil, gas and coal companies is a gesture. If you’re confident the Trump administration isn’t really going to do anything other than continue a carbon-as-usual policy, what the hey? Why not be gracious?
Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute actually has an answer to that:
Big corporations and Wall Street did not elect President Trump and are out of touch with the economic realities that face people who work in resource and energy-intensive industries.
The Heritage Foundation, the Texas Public Policy Foundation and the usual stage right cast all agree. Bloomberg quoted Mike McKenna, a Republican energy lobbyist, putting it this way: This is a campaign promise — a specific promise the president made repeatedly. He’s not just going to be able to walk away from it.
These folks have a lot of skin the game. I certainly don’t blame them for expecting The Big Guy to make good on his promises. Trump may be made of Teflon—other Republicans aren’t.
A few weeks ago there were reports of Pruitt being targeted as a turncoat for having advised the president not to order him to revoke the endangerment finding outright. I’d commented at the time that Pruitt was right—as a matter of legal strategy—to recommend what he did. It was a much sounder way to begin to kick out the struts holding up the Clean Power Plan.
The attack seemed disingenuous. Pruitt is more than just another denier; as the Oklahoma Attorney General, he led the charge against Obama’s environmental efforts over a dozen times. Why attack the poster boy of deniers?
The answer now is obvious. Pruitt was the crash dummy used by the deniers to send Trump a message.
Two recent developments are being alluded to as possible mind-changers. The first is an attempt by former lead negotiators, Todd Stern and Susan Biniaz, to lower Trump’s resistance to the climate accords--suggesting it is well within his prerogative to lower the U.S. intended reduction targets.
The second a letter by 200 investors, representing more than $15 trillion of managed assets, urging G-20 governments—most especially the Trump administration—to reaffirm their commitments to combat climate change at meetings in May and July.
Whether the possibility of lowered targets and the investors’ letter will convince The Donald to commit to the Paris agreement or not, it will be used by the Kushners, Tillerson, Cohn and others to support their recommendation.
Bottom line, Trump is going to be far better off with his core supporters, if he pushes back from the table. Politically he has more to gain by leaving than staying, at least in terms of appealing to his core supporters.
Climate defenders won’t believe him if he relents. Conservatives won’t forgive him if he does.
Staying is the hollowest of gestures, as long Trump continues to dismantle the regulatory and programmatic means for the federal government to combat climate change. Remaining at the table is outright hypocrisy.
Worst of all it will slow down other nations, which for deniers is victory. A recent G-7 meeting was a glimpse into the future. Six of the seven nations were ready to do something positive and Secretary Perry said sorry guys, we’re still thinking about it.
What the hell’s there to think about? Trump’s denial is as clear as his executive orders.
The recent decision to delay a decision post the G-7 meeting in Sicily is not a hopeful sign. There is every reason in the world to announce the decision to stay prior to the May 25-26. Trump loves kudos.
There is also every reason to postpone announcing the decision to recant after the G-7 meeting. The Donald dislikes being dissed.
It is truly a shame that leadership—business leadership—may well fall to China and India because they are ready to fill the void created by the U.S. pulling back efforts. U.S. companies will still participate in the market.
Who knows, maybe that will be what ultimately convinces Trump to change his mind. Whether he can convince enough Republicans in the Congress and elsewhere is a question for another day.
Joel B. Stronberg
Joel Stronberg, MA, JD., of The JBS Group is a veteran clean energy policy analyst with over 30 years’ experience, based in Washington, DC.