The Trump administration announced Monday that it will begin formally withdrawing the US from the Paris climate accord, the first step in a year-long process to leave the landmark agreement to reduce emissions of planet-warming gases.
“Today the United States began the process to withdraw from the Paris Agreement,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement. “Per the terms of the Agreement, the United States submitted formal notification of its withdrawal to the United Nations. The withdrawal will take effect one year from delivery of the notification.”
After President Donald Trump said in 2017 that he intended to pull the US out of the agreement, the latest move is a procedural step that would lead to a complete withdrawal just after the 2020 presidential election. From replacing the Clean Power Plan to attempting to loosen fuel economy standards, it is another push from an administration that has made rolling back environmental regulations a top priority.
It also sends a powerful message to the rest of the world: That as the damaging impacts of climate change become more apparent, the US — which according to a recent analysis has contributed more to global warming than any other country — will not be a part of the international charge to solve the crisis.
The pullout follows acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney’s announcement that climate change will not be on the agenda at next year’s G7 summit — which the US is hosting — and Trump’s absence from the conversation at the United Nations Climate Action Summit in September, where countries and businesses gathered to announce their plans to reduce emissions.
Critics of the withdrawal say that the US leaving an agreement it helped negotiate will harm the country’s standing internationally.
“Our credibility is really at an all-time low on this when it’s most needed,” said Andrew Light, a senior fellow at the World Resources Institute and a former State Department official who helped negotiate the Paris Agreement on behalf of the Obama administration.
Trump has blasted the Paris Agreement in the past, claiming it would punish American workers and enrich foreign countries.
Proponents of the agreement, however, see the US withdrawal as a missed economic opportunity for American business.
A 2016 report by the International Finance Corporation of the World Bank Group found that the Paris goals would open up an estimated $23 trillion in investment opportunities in developing markets through 2030. Critics say that with the US out of the market, the country’s chief competitors are stepping in.
Under the framework of the agreement, Monday is the earliest date that the administration can notify the United Nations that the US plans to leave.
But the process cannot be completed until exactly one year later on November 4, 2020, which happens to be one day after the 2020 presidential election.
Should Trump lose the 2020 election, a new president could rejoin the agreement, but would have to put forth new climate commitments to the UN.
The issue of addressing the climate crisis has already emerged as a top campaign issue for many 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, and the timing of the US withdrawal will likely keep the issue at the forefront.
The administration’s announcement comes at a time when signals indicate Trump’s climate policy is increasingly at odds with public opinion, with polls showing that a majority of Americans are concerned about global warming.
A poll conducted by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication earlier this year showed that about 7 in 10 Americans think global warming is happening, and at least 6 in 10 are “somewhat worried” about it.
There is also the growing youth-led environmental movement that has drawn millions into the streets around the world to demand climate action from world leaders, another sign of growing global angst about the state of the planet. And in recent months, increasingly dire scientific reports have sounded alarm bells about the state of the planet’s oceans and polar regions.
But on Monday, Pompeo said in his statement: “In international climate discussions, we will continue to offer a realistic and pragmatic model — backed by a record of real world results — showing innovation and open markets lead to greater prosperity, fewer emissions, and more secure sources of energy.”