Trump is reportedly pulling the US out of the Paris climate agreement. What happens next?

A lot is at stake.
A lot is at stake.
Image: Reuters/Andrew Kelly
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Two news organizations are reporting that US president Donald Trump has decided to pull out of the Paris climate agreement. Both Axios and Reuters cite sources saying that the US will join Syria and Nicaragua as the only countries to not support the deal that was signed in of 2015 and came into effect in November.

The White House has not yet made an announcement on the matter, but Trump himself signaled on Twitter that a decision will come in the next few days:

What’s next?

The US has three options if it does pull out, each with a different timeline:

First, a public announcement would effectively begin the process of the US’s withdrawal from the agreement. But because the US had agreed to the deal, it would officially have to wait for three years after the deal came into force to begin withdrawal, and another year before withdrawal is complete.

Second, Trump could speed up the process by leaving the UN treaty that underpins the Paris deal. Doing this could achieve his aim in a year.

Finally, he could declare that Paris is an international treaty and thus requires Senate approval. The Republican-led senate would then reject the deal, giving Trump legitimacy to not follow through on the agreement.

What about US emissions?

As with any bureaucratic decision, nothing much would happen immediately if the US pulls out of the deal. The US commitment in the Paris agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions was only slightly more ambitious than what the country was on track to achieve under Barack Obama’s climate policies.

But with Trump beginning to undo climate regulations, those reductions may well be lost in the coming years as well. Still, Trump is unlikely to be able to overcome market forces that are making gains in energy efficiency and renewable energy. So overall, according to the Rhodium Group’s estimates, US emissions are likely remain flat until 2030 (rather than continuing to decline as predicted under Obama).

Why leave the agreement?

It’s not clear what exactly Trump’s reasons would be to leave a deal that sets no legally binding goals to reduce emissions. But we have some hints.

Trump’s own team was divided on the issue. Globalists such as secretary of state Rex Tillerson and advisers Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner wanted the US to remain in the deal. Nationalists like chief strategist Steve Bannon and the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Scott Pruitt, wanted to leave. He appears to have sided with the nationalists and climate deniers.

Other hints come from a letter sent by 22 Republican senators that may have played an important role, according to Axios. It argues that provisions in the US Clean Air Act (passed in 1963 and amended a few times since) and clauses in the Paris agreement could open up Trump’s administration to litigation risks that could prevent it from achieving its goals of dismantling environmental regulations. Moreover, it argues, remaining in the UN treaty underpinning the Paris deal will assure the US has a seat at the table. (It’s not clear yet whether the litigation risks are real, or whether leaving the Paris deal reduces US influence over global climate negotiations.)