As President Donald Trump weighs a pivotal decision on whether to keep the United States in a global climate agreement, a fierce debate is playing out in the White House over the issue. But the debate has almost nothing to do with climate change.
With Trump due to take a decision as soon as Tuesday, former officials, policy experts, and congressional aides familiar with the White House deliberations describe a haphazard process dominated by political and ideological considerations. Trump excoriated climate change on the campaign trail as “an expensive hoax,” and some senior aides and supporters want to see the president make good on his promise to dump the 2015 Paris deal.
“The words ‘climate change’ were hardly even uttered,” a former senior official familiar with the discussions told Foreign Policy. “I really just wanted there to be a rational policy process but … there was no policy process at all.”
Under former President Barack Obama, the United States helped craft the Paris climate conference, a landmark international accord designed to curb carbon emissions that are the main cause of climate change. But as a candidate, Trump threatened to withdraw the United States from what he has called a “bad deal,” arguing the accord would kill off jobs through its voluntary goals for curbing greenhouse gas emissions.
It’s unclear how Trump will come down on the issue, but for his inner circle, the battle lines are drawn. On one side are Trump’s daughter Ivanka, his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who are lobbying the president to keep the United States in the deal, several sources tell FP. On the other side of the argument: White House Chief Strategist Stephen Bannon and Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt, both of whom reject climate change science.
For the United States, pulling out of the Paris agreement could have broad diplomatic repercussions, after years of difficult negotiations in which the U.S. pressed for concessions from allies and partners.
Until a couple of weeks ago, supporters of the climate agreement were cautiously optimistic the administration would opt to stay in the accord, particularly given Tillerson’s comments suggesting Washington would be better off staying in and shaping the global agenda on climate. But on April 27, Trump’s inner circle met to debate whether or not to withdraw the United States from the Paris deal, and opponents of the deal presented a new argument to ditch the accord.
The White House general counsel asserted that the United States could be vulnerable to legal challenges in court if it stayed in the accord while scaling back the emission pledges it made in the negotiations. If accepted, the legal interpretation would almost certainly force Trump’s hand and prompt a U.S. exit from the deal.
Ivanka and others at the meeting argued for more time to consider the issue and the new legal interpretation. Experts outside the government are deeply skeptical that the United States could be successfully sued in court over an agreement that is nonbinding and allows each country to set its own voluntary emissions-reduction goals. When the Obama administration negotiated the deal, government lawyers did not warn of any serious risk of legal challenges.
Source/More: Foreign Policy