President Donald Trump is poised to announce plans to withdraw the U.S. from the landmark Paris climate accord on Thursday, injecting uncertainty into the worldwide effort to combat climate change.
The move, described by two people familiar with the deliberations, would put the U.S. in the company of just Syria and Nicaragua as the only countries not part of the global carbon-cutting pact signed in December 2015.
Trump said on Twitter late Wednesday that he would reveal his decision from the White House Rose Garden at 3:00 p.m. New York time. “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!” he added.
The decision won’t be final until it’s announced, cautioned several people familiar with the administration’s deliberations who, like the others, requested anonymity. Trump is known to change his mind when considering major issues, and his top advisers are divided on continued U.S. participation in the Paris accord. Under the terms of the agreement, a U.S. extrication would unfold over three and a half years, still leaving open the possibility for a reversal.
The announcement comes after intense lobbying by corporate executives, world leaders and even Pope Francis, who have urged Trump to keep the U.S. in the accord for the good of the American economy and the planet. Advocates for the pact increased their pressure on Trump after reports Wednesday that he favored leaving, including Tesla Inc. chief executive Elon Musk, who said on Twitter he would resign from White House advisory councils if the U.S. exits the pact.
But Trump repeatedly pledged to jettison the agreement on the campaign trail; his announcement Thursday would mean he is following through on that promise.
Trump has called climate change a “hoax” and criticized the Paris deal as “one-sided” against the U.S., while White House legal advisers have warned that staying could undercut Trump’s efforts to rescind rules on power-plant emissions and methane leaks.
Top administration officials have been divided on what to do, with some, including Ivanka Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, urging the president to keep the U.S. in the deal. Others, including Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt and White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, lead a faction pushing a U.S. exit.
There is consensus in the administration that the terms of the Paris accord must change, and officials have been exploring whether that requires a full exit or a scaled-back U.S. commitment to cut emissions, according to one of the people. Trump met with Tillerson at the White House on Wednesday, according to the president’s official schedule.
A move to leave would have significant environmental and diplomatic consequences. As the richest nation and the second-largest emitter of carbon dioxide, the U.S. is central to efforts to address global warming. Companies as diverse as Exxon Mobil Corp. and Apple Inc., as well as Tesla, had urged the president to remain in the pact.
The Paris accord is broader than any previous climate agreement. It calls for reducing carbon dioxide emissions in hopes of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above temperatures at the outset of the Industrial Revolution. That’s the upper limit scientists have set to keep climate change from hitting an irreversible tipping point, unleashing catastrophic floods, droughts and storms.
With an exit, Trump would make a clean break from his predecessor, Barack Obama, who made the Paris accord a top priority of his second term and pledged the U.S. would slash carbon dioxide emissions 26 percent by 2025.
Trump has already moved to dismantle programs to fight global warming. He ordered a review of fuel-economy standards for cars and light trucks, which along with other vehicles are the U.S.’s largest source of greenhouse gases. And he set in motion a process to scrap the Clean Power Plan, which would have required utilities to slash their carbon dioxide emissions. The EPA is also moving to rescind rules to prevent methane leaks.
Withdrawing from the Paris agreement can’t happen immediately. Under the deal’s terms, Trump must wait until November 2019 to formally submit his bid to quit. It would take another year after that before the U.S. is actually out.
Other options for leaving include withdrawing from the United Nations treaty that undergirds the agreement — which could happen immediately — or sending the Paris pact to the Senate for ratification, an impossible political hurdle given the makeup of the chamber now.
U.S. climate efforts won’t completely cease if Trump walks away from Paris.
States including California, New York and Massachusetts continue to move forward with aggressive policies to cut carbon emissions. Anheuser-Busch InBev NV, Apple, Amazon.com Inc., Alphabet Inc.’s Google and other companies continue their push to power their facilities with wind and solar energy. Low-carbon wind, solar and natural gas are so cheap that the Department of Energy is studying what it can do to help ailing, older coal and nuclear plants.
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