Trump’s top environment official called for an “exit” from the historic Paris agreement Thursday in what appeared to be the first time such a high-ranking official has so explicitly disavowed the agreement endorsed by nearly 200 countries to fight climate change.
Speaking with “Fox & Friends,” Pruitt commented, “Paris is something that we need to really look at closely. It’s something we need to exit in my opinion.”
“It’s a bad deal for America,” Pruitt continued. “It was an America second, third, or fourth kind of approach. China and India had no obligations under the agreement until 2030. We front-loaded all of our costs.”
Pruitt’s claim about China and India having “no obligations” until 2030 is incorrect – while these countries do indeed have 2030 targets, they are already acting now to reduce their emissions by investing in renewable energy and other initiatives.
Pruitt had called the Paris accord a “bad deal” in the past but does not appear to have previously gone so far as to call for the United States to withdraw.
The Trump administration has previously said it is currently reviewing its position on climate change and energy policy and remains noncommittal, for now, on whether it will follow through on the president’s campaign pledge to “cancel” the 2015 Paris climate agreement.
“You might’ve read in the media that there was much discussion about U.S. energy policy and the fact that we’re undergoing a review of many of those policies,” Energy Secretary Rick Perry said in Texas on Thursday, according to prepared remarks. “It’s true, we are and it’s the right thing to do.”
Amid this uncertainty, the statement aligns Pruitt with a more hard-line approach held by some in the Trump administration, such as Chief Strategist Stephen Bannon, rather than the more moderate take of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who had said in his confirmation hearing that the U.S. should have a “seat at the table” in the Paris negotiations, and Ivanka Trump and her husband and Trump confidant, Jared Kushner.
Tillerson’s former company, the oil giant ExxonMobil, has also supported the Paris accord, and in late March wrote a letter to the White House reiterating its view that “the United States is well positioned to compete within the framework of the Paris agreement, with abundant low-carbon resources such as natural gas, and innovative private industries, including the oil, gas, and petrochemical sectors.”
If the Trump administration wants to take a more moderate approach to the Paris deal, it could consider modifying the United States’ current pledge to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, rather than seeking to exit altogether.
That’s a tack advanced in a letter to Trump, previously reported on by E&E News, by North Dakota Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer, who argued that “the U.S. should present a new pledge that does no harm to our economy,” one that would highlight “the importance of baseload power generation, including highly efficient and low emission coal-fired and nuclear power plants.”
The Obama administration had promised the world that the United States would reduce its emissions by 26 to 28 percent below its 2005 levels by the year 2025. The Trump administration could simply revise that pledge and make it less ambitious, and easier to attain.
In the energy sector, U.S. carbon dioxide emissions have already declined by 14 percent from 2005 to 2016, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The reason is more burning of natural gas rather than coal and a growing profusion of renewables.
“It is looking like we may see them announce that they’re going to stay in Paris and also announce simultaneously that they’re going to revise the U.S. target under Paris to 2025,” Andrew Light, a senior fellow in the global climate program at the World Resources Institute, noted in an interview earlier this week. But as he added, “look, these guys are unpredictable, and I don’t think we can know.”
It is far from clear how the Trump administration could actually “exit” the Paris agreement, assuming that the Pruitt line wins and the administration determines that it wants to. Now that the agreement has entered into force, it takes three years under its terms for a party to withdraw, followed by a one-year waiting period – a length roughly equal to Trump’s first term in office.
While the Trump administration has backed away from the global leadership on climate change that President Barack Obama pursued, other countries have embraced that role.
“The Paris Agreement is a hard-won achievement which is in keeping with the underlying trend of global development,” Chinese President Xi Jinping said at the World Economic Forum earlier this year. “All signatories should stick to it instead of walking away from it as this is a responsibility we must assume for future generations.”
The country also has announced plans to spend more than $360 billion dollars over the next several years investing in renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. In January, China’s National Energy Administration outlined a plan to make massive investments in clean energy through 2020, even as President Trump has focused almost exclusively on supporting the fossil fuel industry. The country said it expects such funding to create roughly 13 million jobs, reduce emissions of greenhouse gasses responsible for global warming and lessen the smog that has long plagued Beijing and other Chinese cities.