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Extended AirTalk: Trump announces US withdrawal from Paris climate accord




U.S. President Donald Trump announces his decision regarding the United States' participation in the Paris climate agreement in the Rose Garden at the White House June 1, 2017 in Washington, DC.
U.S. President Donald Trump announces his decision regarding the United States' participation in the Paris climate agreement in the Rose Garden at the White House June 1, 2017 in Washington, DC.
Win McNamee/Getty Images

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President Donald Trump announced Thursday that the U. S. will withdraw from the Paris global climate pact, the historic 195-country anti-global warming agreement, but added that the U.S. will begin negotiations to re-enter a climate agreement. It fulfills a longstanding campaign promise, despite global and internal pressures to remain in the treaty.

NPR journalists fact-checked and added context to Trump's remarks; read the annotated speech here.

The historic global agreement, reached in 2015, set targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and limiting the rise in average global temperatures.

During a news conference Thursday in the Rose Garden at the White House, Trump said the withdrawal is aimed at keeping his campaign promise to put American workers first — but he also added that the U.S. would begin negotiations to possibly re-enter the Paris accord or a similar deal that, he said, would result in a better deal for American workers.

Watch Trump's announcement here:

Trump climate announcement

"The agreement is a massive redistribution of United States' wealth to other countries," Trump said. "It's to give their country an economic edge over the United States. That's not going to happen as long as I'm president, I'm sorry."

He later added: "Our withdrawal from the agreement represents a reassertion of American workers' sovereignty."

Meanwhile, on the eve of his visit to China, where he will support climate-change collaboration, California’s Gov. Jerry Brown said that California will work with international governments to fight climate change.

Brown issued a statement on Trump's announcement:

"Donald Trump has absolutely chosen the wrong course. He’s wrong on the facts. America’s economy is boosted by following the Paris Agreement. He’s wrong on the science. Totally wrong. California will resist this misguided and insane course of action. Trump is AWOL but California is on the field, ready for battle."

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra also issued a statement:

"The earth is round, the sky is blue, and climate change is real. Today’s decision by President Trump to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Change Agreement sets forth his lasting legacy of endangering our planet’s health and future generations.

“In California, we’re already experiencing the cost of climate change. Severe droughts have cost our farmers billions of dollars in lost output; rising sea levels will threaten our coastal cities in coming decades; and record-high temperatures are increasing harmful ground-level ozone pollution, which can cause respiratory problems. Regardless of Washington’s inaction, California will continue to lead the way on protecting our planet. We will fight the Trump Administration tooth and nail any time it tries to roll back our progress. The stakes are simply far too high.”

During his campaign, Trump vowed to "cancel" U.S. participation in the deal. World leaders and business figures had recently urged him to reconsider, but by Wednesday morning, reports began to surface that Trump had decided to leave the pact.

Barack Obama had used his authority as president to join the Paris accord without a vote in the Legislature. That means Trump can also remove the U.S. from the accord without a vote. But it will take a while: Under the terms of the agreement, he wouldn't actually be able to withdraw until November 2020.

Leaving the underlying treaty — the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) — would be faster, and could be completed within a year. But that treaty was U.S. Senate-ratified. Presidents have unilaterally exited Senate-ratified treaties before, but it's rare and controversial.

5 things that could change when the U.S. leaves the Paris climate deal

President Trump announced Thursday that the U.S. will leave the Paris climate deal.

Here are five things that could be affected by the decision.

1. The coal industry

Even coal companies had lobbied the Trump administration to stay in the agreement.

They said they needed a seat at the table during international climate discussions to advocate for coal's place in the global energy mix. The industry also wants financial support for technology to capture and store carbon emissions, something that could keep coal plants operating longer even as cities, states, and other countries work to address climate change.

While President Trump had promised to "cancel" the Paris deal to boost coal, the decision is not likely to create more jobs. The industry is in a long term decline as it faces competition from cheaper natural gas and — increasingly — wind and solar. Some utilities are also responding to customer demand for renewable power, and the policies of any one administration have little impact on those decisions. "As a utility, we're trying to plan many years out into the future," says Ron Roberts of Puget Sound Energy.

2. The climate

The main goal of the Paris deal was to limit global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius (or, aspirationally, even 1.5 degrees.) Beyond that point, scientists worry that catastrophic impacts of warming become irreversible. The various Paris pledges by each nation were not actually enough to achieve that target. And even with the environmental regulations passed under President Obama, the U.S. was unlikely to meet its original commitment — to reduce carbon emissions by 26-28% below 2005 levels. Now, the U.S. may fall further from that goal.

That said, U.S. carbon emissions will still probably continue to decline, at least for a few years. Market forces are pushing utilities to switch from coal to natural gas or renewable power. "We are on a path to reduce emissions below 2005 levels by about 15 to 17 percent in 2020," says Kate Larsen of the Rhodium Group.

But the Trump administration is rolling back a host of other climate regulations, and that impact will start to be felt in a few years. Economist Marc Hafstead of Resources for the Future says if economic growth picks up, leaving the Paris deal may mean overall U.S. emissions drop only by 10 percent.

3. U.S. global leadership

Trump's top diplomat, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, warned against leaving the Paris deal. It puts the U.S. in a very small camp; the only other countries not part of the agreement are Syria and Nicaragua. In tweets, Richard Haas, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, said the decision won't have much of an effect on economic growth, but will signal that the U.S. is no longer willing to lead and "does not value international order."

China, meanwhile, is poised to take a stronger leadership role on climate. That could benefit China's economy, as well. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres seems to be counting on other countries to reinforce their commitments. "The sustainability train has left the station," he said this week, "Those who embrace green technologies will set the gold standard for economic leadership in the 21st century."

4. President Trump's public support (but maybe not the part that counts)

Most Americans want the U.S. to stay in the Paris climate accord. But, in bucking that broad public opinion, Trump is playing to his base.

A Washington Post poll in January found just 31 percent of those surveyed support withdrawing from the Paris deal, while 56 percent are opposed. But conservative Republicans are far less supportive of the Paris agreement than liberal Democrats, according to the Pew Research Center.

Before taking office, Trump repeatedly dismissed climate change as a hoax, and suggested that Obama-era climate regulations put the U.S. at a competitive disadvantage. Many conservative Republicans share the president's climate skepticism. And less than a third support measures like the Clean Power Plan — Obama's principal tool for meeting America's Paris climate commitments.

Pulling out of the Paris accords will undoubtedly anger many Americans, but it keeps a promise to Trump's core supporters. As small-government activist Grover Norquist told the New York Times, "Everybody who hates Trump wants him to stay in Paris. Everybody who respects him, trusts him, voted for him, wishes for him to succeed wants him to pull out."

5. The U.S. economy

President Trump has repeatedly called the Paris accord a "bad deal" for the U.S., and said it will hurt the economy. One big outlay is the Green Climate Fund set up under the deal. President Obama had committed the U.S. to contributing $3 billion dollars to the fund, which aims to help developing countries adapt to climate change and develop low-emission energy technologies. Under Obama, the U.S. transferred $1 billion, but Mr. Trump's budget proposal does not include payments for the rest.

Opponents of the Paris agreement also say imposing regulations to reduce carbon emissions is too costly. "It'd be very, very expensive," Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe told WBUR's Here & Now. "It'd constitute probably the largest tax increase in the history of America." It's not clear if that's true, but the coal industry has spent many millions installing technology to curb its emissions in recent years.

That said, the White House could easily have stayed in the Paris accord even as it opted not to pay into the climate fund or impose emissions cuts.

Of course, supporters of Paris say if the U.S. withdrawal leads to more severe climate change, that would greatly harm the U.S. economy.

Urged to stay, urged to leave

A wide chorus of voices had called for Trump to recommit to the Paris agreement: Other world leaders and hundreds of scientists, of course, but also CEOs of major energy companies and other big U.S. corporations. Even many of Trump's own advisers support the deal, according to The New York Times.

But those supporting a departure won out. More than 20 Republican senators called for Trump to leave the deal. Influential Trump advisers, reportedly Steve Bannon and EPA Director Scott Pruitt, also urged him to withdraw.

And then, of course, there was the argument advanced by candidate Trump. On the campaign trail, he criticized the agreement that the U.S. formally signed onto last year. He has said the deal is "unfair" to the U.S., objecting in particular to the requirement that wealthy nations help developing countries build renewable energy sources.

Trump has also signaled, more broadly, that fighting climate change is not a priority for his administration. He's denied the existence of climate change in the past, and appointed as the head of the EPA a man who doesn't accept the overwhelming scientific consensus that humans are causing global warming by releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. And he's already overturned several Obama-era efforts to reduce emissions.

A hard-fought diplomatic agreement

The Paris accord was reached in 2015 after lengthy negotiations. The deal relies on voluntary cuts in emissions by all the member nations — nearly 200 of them.

The agreement also, significantly, sets a global target: to keep the rise in the average temperature no higher than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. And it calls for some $100 billion a year in funding from developed countries toward developing countries, to support green energy sources.

It fell short of what some parties had hoped for. Island nations — which face an existential threat from rising sea waters — had pushed hard for a target of 1.5 degrees Celsius. (Why not even lower? Well, as of 2015, the global average temperature had already risen by 1 degree Celsius, and even with robust efforts to cut emissions, some further increase is essentially inevitable.)

And the agreement relies on voluntary cuts in emissions, which is seen by some critics as a major weakness.

Still, the fact that the world managed to agree on a target was celebrated as a diplomatic achievement, one multiple world leaders have emphasized as crucial to support. After the recent G-7 meetings, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and vocally supported her commitment to action on climate change.

Modi said failing to act on climate change would be "a morally criminal act." Merkel had previously vowed to "convince the doubters" among world leaders that "protecting the climate matters to all of us."

The doubters are in the minority. Only two countries — Syria and Nicaragua — have completely rejected the deal.

Several dozen countries have signed but not fully approved — including Iran, Turkey and, most significantly, Russia, which is a major emitter of greenhouse gases. But three-quarters of the countries on earth have fully committed to the accord.

A pact in name, or in deed?

It's important to note that the Paris accord is only as strong as each nation's actual reduction in emissions. That means leaving the agreement isn't the only way to weaken it: Trump could have kept the U.S. as a signatory, but continued to slash the programs that would actually make it possible to reach the target for emissions.

The opposite is also true: U.S. greenhouse gas emissions could continue to go down, at least in the short term, even as Trump withdraws from the accord.

As NPR's Christopher Joyce recently reported, emissions in the U.S. have declined by about 12 percent since 2005.

"The U.S. has successfully bent its greenhouse gas emissions curve," Kate Larsen, of the economics research team Rhodium Group, told Christopher. "And we are going to continue to reduce emissions over the next 10 years, likely regardless of Trump policy."

But while the Paris accord isn't synonymous with U.S. emissions cuts, that doesn't mean Trump's decision on the accord is meaningless.

Economist Marc Hafstead, who's with Resources for the Future, told Christopher that exiting the deal "could potentially have political ramifications — to the extent that our pulling out of the agreement is going to cause other countries to do less."

It would also threaten the $100 billion a year pledged to help developing countries achieve emissions cuts, as Bloomberg has reported.

Meanwhile, many analysts see a U.S. departure from the deal as paving the way for China to take the lead on climate change.

It's not just a question of intangible moral leadership, or even of the potential profits from green energy that would be on the table. The Atlantic reported last year that a U.S. departure would likely result in less-transparent mechanisms for actually enforcing the Paris accord — because Chinese "faulty and unreliable energy statistics" could play a prominent role.

By staying in the deal, the U.S. would have kept a spot at the negotiating table — and potential influence over how the agreement is enforced.

The reaction in the U.S.

Obama decried Trump's decision in a statement released Thursday.

"The nations that remain in the Paris Agreement will be the nations that reap the benefits in jobs and industries created," the former president said. He added:

"I believe the United States of America should be at the front of the pack. But even in the absence of American leadership; even as this Administration joins a small handful of nations that reject the future; I'm confident that our states, cities, and businesses will step up and do even more to lead the way, and help protect for future generations the one planet we've got."

Even before Trump announced his final decision, Democrats in the U.S. decried withdrawal as "a low point in modern American leadership," as Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif., put it.

On Wednesday, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., wrote on Twitter that it would be "catastrophic for the President to cede our leadership on this issue."

Some Republicans in Congress, including several representing districts particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, also rebuked reports of Trump's decision. "Climate change is a serious issue," tweeted Rep. Vern Buchanan of Florida — with a photo of development near a Florida beach.

But GOP Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma strongly defended the decision to leave the accord.

"The main thing is, it's something that we couldn't do; it'd be impossible to do," he told "Here & Now." "It's necessary, then, to make sure that we don't have a bunch of people out there suing us because we're not doing what the president said we're supposed to do."

NPR journalists fact-checked and added context to Trump's remarks, including comments about the economy and U.S. energy sector.

AirTalk took an extra hour Thursday to do live coverage of Trump’s announcement, with analysis from environmental, oil and local voices.

What are the repercussions of Trump’s decision on the environment, business and the United States' standing in the world, as well as its impact on California?

Guests:

Matt Rodriguez, Democratic strategist and founder and chief executive officer of Rodriguez Strategies; he was also a senior adviser to Obama in 2008; he tweets @RodStrategies.

Sean T. Walsh, Republican political analyst and partner at Wilson Walsh Consulting in San Francisco; he is a former adviser to California governors Pete Wilson and Arnold Schwarzenegger and a former White House staffer for presidents Reagan and H.W. Bush.

Alice Hill, fellow at the Hoover Institution, where her research includes the impacts of climate change; she was special assistant to President Obama as part of the National Security Council, and led the development of national policy regarding climate change.

Nick Loris,  an economist who focuses on energy, environmental, and regulatory issues and a fellow at the Heritage Foundation

Stephen Gregory, KPCC's Environment and Science Editor; he tweets @SteveFredGreg.

This story has been updated.

Portions of this story Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.