Trump reportedly ready to abandon Paris climate accord; environmentalists warn: ‘Our kids will pay the price’

The environmentalist community is reacting with predictable outrage to reports that President Trump has decided to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement on climate change.

On Wednesday morning, Axios broke a story citing two sources with “direct knowledge of the decision” saying that Trump would withdraw from the Paris climate accord and that he’s working out the details with a small team that includes Environmental Protection Administration head Scott Pruitt. As word of the report spread, Trump said he would formally announce his decision within the next few days.

Trump vowed to pull the U.S. out of the international climate accord on the campaign trail but softened his rhetoric after taking office. He said he would make his decision after the recent Group of Seven (G7) summit in Italy.

The administration has reversed several of President Obama’s environmental initiatives, including toxic regulation and land use, and environmentalists have spoken out strongly against Trump.

The Paris accord sets goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions but has no mechanisms in place for enforcement, so a withdrawal by the U.S — which would not take effect until 2020 in any case — would be primarily symbolic. But it is an enormously powerful symbol to environmentalists, and equally to opponents. The only two other countries that are not participants are Syria and Nicaragua.

“On the Paris accord, we pushed and mobilized to get Trump to stay in, but the decision appears to have been taken despite efforts to convince him today,” a European diplomat told Yahoo News.

French President Emmanuel Macron personally courted Trump — twice by telephone and also during their working lunch, arguing that “the agreement is nonbinding, benefits everyone, is good for jobs,” the diplomat said.

But a top White House official recently warned several embassies involved in the process that it would “very difficult” to convince Trump “to stay in an agreement that he regards as unnecessary, even if his conversations with Macron appeared to make him think twice,” the diplomat said.

President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Thursday, May 18, 2017. (Photo/Susan Walsh/AP)
President Trump at a recent White House press conference. (Photo: Susan Walsh/AP)

Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, released a statement Wednesday saying that if these reports turn out to be true, Trump is making “a reckless and foolish mistake” for which “our kids will pay the price.” She sees the Paris Agreement as a triumph of American leadership in which U.S. diplomats did what’s best for the nation as a whole: spurring clean energy, creating millions of jobs and protecting future generations.

“Trump would be walking away from that American victory, abandoning U.S. climate and clean energy leadership and breaking our promise to the rest of the world. Foreign leaders would remember that the next time we need their cooperation on what’s important to us,” she said. “This is not putting America first: It’s putting fossil-fuel profits ahead of the national interest. We have a right to demand better from our president and to fight for our children’s future.”

There was not an immediate, comparable reaction to the reports from groups that promote the interests of the fossil fuel industry, such as the American Petroleum Institute.

But the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank that has been critical of climate change initiatives, said if Trump does withdraw the U.S. from the Paris accord it would “demonstrate resolute leadership.”

In a series of tweets, the Heritage Foundation condemned the agreement as “egregious regulation, cronyism and government spending” that would be as “disastrous for the American economy as it is proving to be for those in Europe.”

Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, released a statement saying Trump has made “a historic mistake” that this generation’s grandchildren will look back with dismay that a world leader could be so untethered from reality or morality.

“Trump has abandoned the standard of American leadership, turned his back on the what the public and the market demand, and shamelessly disregarded the safety of our families, just to let the fossil-fuel industry eek out a few more dollars in profits,” Brune said. “This is a decision that will cede America’s role internationally to nations like China and India, which will benefit handsomely from embracing the booming clean-energy economy, while Trump seeks to drive our country back into the 19th century.”

“Make no mistake,” he continued, “the Paris Agreement was adopted after decades of climate advocacy by concerned citizens across America and around the world, and it certainly will not be derailed by the ignorance of one man.”

Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters, also issued a strongly worded statement that called a withdrawal from the Paris Agreement “wildly irresponsible.” He accused Trump of jeopardizing the health and safety of Americans and undermining the United States’ leadership role in the world community.

“This would be a new low, even for President Trump and [EPA administrator] Pruitt, who have prioritized polluter profits over kids’ health at every step of the way. Such a decision would be bad business, bad policy and bad politics,” he said.

Karpinski pointed out that other countries will continue the “unstoppable march” toward clean energy and vowed that his organization would stand with voters who want stronger climate action and for the Trump administration to be held accountable.

The United Nations tweeted a statement from Secretary-General António Guterres affirming that climate change is real and that climate action is unstoppable.

According to the 28th article of the Paris Agreement, any country can withdraw three years after the agreement enters into force. Dan Bodansky, a climate change expert and a law professor at Arizona State University, told Yahoo News that Trump would be able to submit the United States’ withdrawal in November 2019 and that it would become effective in 2020.

Trump has said that he is “not a huge believer in the global warming phenomenon” and dismissed climate change as a “hoax.” He has belittled initiatives to combat climate change as part of a “money-making industry.” Perhaps most confusingly, he claimed that China invented the concept of global warming to hurt U.S. manufacturing. Trump also said that “nobody really knows” whether climate change is real.

The vast majority of scientists disagree. Many scientific associations have released reports and statements affirming that the global climate has warmed as a result of human activities and that this could have widespread impact if unchecked.

According to the U.S. Global Change Research Program, “The global warming of the past 50 years is due primarily to human-induced increases in heat-trapping gases. Human ‘fingerprints’ also have been identified in many other aspects of the climate system, including changes in ocean heat content, precipitation, atmospheric moisture and Arctic Sea ice.”

Though Trump’s rhetoric is some of the strongest uttered by any major Republican politician, his beliefs concerning climate change and the environment are close to mainstream Republican thought. Just last week, a group of 22 influential Republican senators, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, signed a letter urging Trump to make a “clean break” from the Paris Agreement.

A peer-reviewed study from August 2015 found that the Republican Party stands alone among conservative political parties in the developed world that openly question climate change and criticize those who take an opposing view.

According to reports, the White House has been torn over the prospect of leaving the climate agreement. Ivanka Trump (the president’s daughter and assistant), Jared Kushner (his son-in-law and senior adviser) and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson think the U.S. should stay in the pact, whereas White House chief strategist Steve Bannon and EPA administrator Scott Pruitt want the U.S. to withdraw.

With additional reporting by Olivier Knox

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