Source: Trump seeks to exit Paris Agreement on day one

Source: Evan Lehmann, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Trump administration is exploring steps to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement on Jan. 20, 2017, the first day of Donald Trump’s presidency, according to a person working on the transition team.

“I think this is likely a first-day action,” the source said on the condition on anonymity.

Two primary options are being explored to remove the United States from the global climate accord finalized in December with the consent of almost 200 nations. One involves terminating U.S. membership in the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the treaty created in 1992 that led to the Paris Agreement.

The other scenario entails issuing an executive order rescinding the United States’ participation in the Paris deal. Trump transition officials anticipate that either option would likely ignite fierce opposition from other nations.

“The easiest pathway of getting out of Paris on day one is an executive order removing the signature from the agreement,” said the source, who was brought onto the transition team late last week to work on international energy and climate issues. “You will have people argue that is a violation of international law.”

The other alternative is somewhat slower, but perhaps more consequential.

A withdrawal from the U.N. Framework Convention could be finalized one year after Trump gives notice to do so, according to the source. U.S. membership in the Paris Agreement would end simultaneously, potentially as early as Jan. 20, 2018.

The source did not indicate whether one option is preferred over the other. A third option, to let the Senate vote on the Paris Agreement as a way to kill it, appears to be losing favor among transition officials.

The public assertions by Trump officials are timed to get attention. They came as many of the world’s climate negotiators are meeting in Marrakech, Morocco, to sketch out the procedural steps forward on the Paris Agreement (see related story).

Those are the kinds of meetings a Trump administration might be absent from if it pulls out of the UNFCCC, which convened this week’s Conference of the Parties, or COP.

Some in attendance said they believe Trump could be saber-rattling. He might issue the one-year notice to withdraw from the UNFCCC to gain leverage in trade negotiations, for instance. If the administration receives new benefits, it might relent on its threat, some observers say.

“He seems to be an opportunist, not an ideologue. He takes positions that are expedient to take in any one political moment,” said Steve Herz, a top attorney with Sierra Club’s International Climate Program, in an interview with E&E News in Marrakech.

Trump made trade a top-tier issue during the campaign, and satisfying those promises might outweigh his political calculations about climate, Herz suggested.

“Climate change is not his priority, one way or the other,” he said. “If he sees that it will cost him the ability to deliver on what he sees to be his priorities, he might let it go, right?”

The source on Trump’s transition team blamed the Obama administration for rushing to sign the Paris Agreement before the election. If that hadn’t been done, it would be easier to withdraw from the deal without threatening to end U.S. membership in the U.N. Framework Convention, that person said.

The Framework Convention was signed by then-President George H.W. Bush. It set the objective to “stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.” And while the body itself set no limits on countries’ emissions, it set blueprints for how nations that are party to the treaty could develop protocols to do so — like the Paris Agreement.

Trump officials argue that the Paris Agreement is a treaty and should have been subject to a Senate vote.

“This diplomatic fiasco that may be brewing is not going to be the fault of a Trump administration,” the source said. “It’s going to be the fault of the Obama administration and the international community for ignoring the U.S. Constitution and related legal requirements.”

Reporter Jean Chemnick contributed from Marrakech.