White House Seeks to Avoid Quitting Paris Deal, Climate Officials Say
Trump administration officials said Saturday the U.S. wouldn’t pull out of the Paris Agreement, offering to re-engage in the international deal to fight climate change, according to multiple officials at a global warming summit.
The U.S. position on reviewing the terms of its participation in the landmark accord came during a meeting of more than 30 ministers led by Canada, China and the European Union in Montreal. In June, President Donald Trump said the U.S. would withdraw from the deal unless it could find more favorable terms.
U.S. officials in Montreal, led by White House senior adviser Everett Eissenstat, broached revising U.S. climate-change goals, two participants said, signaling a compromise that would keep the U.S. at the table even if meant weakening the international effort. Still, the move would maintain international unity behind the painstakingly negotiated Paris accord, after Mr. Trump suggested he might seek a new agreement.
“The U.S. has stated that they will not renegotiate the Paris accord, but they will try to review the terms on which they could be engaged under this agreement,” European Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy Miguel Arias Cañete said.
In a statement Saturday afternoon, a White House spokeswoman said the administration’s position on Paris had not changed, but also noted that the president’s stance on withdrawing from the deal had never been set in stone.
“There has been no change in the U.S.’s position on the Paris agreement,” said deputy press secretary Lindsay Walters. “As the president has made abundantly clear, the U.S. is withdrawing unless we can re-enter on terms that are more favorable to our country.”
Multiple participants at the Montreal gathering said Mr. Eissenstat’s approach, though it is likely to entail a significant reduction in the U.S.’s ambition to curb greenhouse-gas emissions, fueled optimism among proponents of the Paris deal. Since Mr. Trump’s inauguration in January, officials from China to the EU and Canada have tried to convince his administration that fighting climate change is also a boon for the economy and jobs, and not just an ideological battle.
“We are pleased the U.S. continues to engage and recognize the economic opportunity of clean growth, including clean energy,” said Canadian Environment Minister Catherine McKenna in a statement to The Wall Street Journal.
In announcing the decision to withdraw the U.S. from the 195-nation agreement at the White House in June, Mr. Trump said he was ready to “begin negotiations to re-enter either the Paris accord or an—really entirely new transaction—on terms that are fair to the U.S., its businesses, its workers, its people, its taxpayers.”
“So we’re getting out, but we will start to negotiate, and we will see if we can make a deal that’s fair,” he added. “And if we can, that’s great. And if we can’t, that’s fine.”
The U.S. has the world’s second highest level of greenhouse-gas emissions, which drive global warming, behind China. Washington’s exit from the Paris deal would undermine its viability and could trigger other exits, unraveling an agreement that took decades to negotiate.
Washington is reviewing new emission-cut targets to combat climate change, Mr. Eissenstat said, according to one of the participants at the meeting. Any revisions would lower existing U.S. commitments signed by former President Barack Obama, which would be a blow to the global effort, the official said. Under the Paris accord, every country set its own goals.
While Mr. Eissenstat, deputy assistant to the president for international economic affairs and deputy director of the National Economic Council, outlined a plan to reassure partners that the U.S. would be constructive, he did not provide clarity on the new emissions-reduction objectives, the official said. The National Economic Council is led by Gary Cohn, Mr. Trump’s top economic adviser.
“They are seriously considering the terms on which the U.S. could re-engage,” the official said. “They have also made clear that they have no intention to renegotiate or develop a parallel track to Paris.”
Mr. Cohn is expected to reiterate Mr. Eissenstat’s message in Montreal during an informal breakfast meeting to discuss international energy and climate issues with the world’s top ministers, the official said.
Canada, China and the EU organized the ministerial meeting in Montreal just before world leaders descend on New York for the United Nations General Assembly.
Signed in 2015 under a U.N. effort to fight climate change, the Paris deal is also on the agenda as countries seek to meet their global commitment to limit the global temperature increases to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) compared with preindustrial levels. The only countries that aren’t signatories to the accord are Syria and Nicaragua.
Some major U.S. energy companies, including Exxon Mobil Corp., had urged Mr. Trump not to withdraw from the Paris accord. Exxon Chief Executive Darren Woods went public earlier this year with his point of view that the U.S. should remain in the agreement.
Some players in the energy industry, including the chiefs of some shale companies, supported the move to leave the Paris Accord.
Whether or not the U.S. opts to stay, the country’s emissions of greenhouse gases are widely predicted to continue declining, as gas power replaces coal, helped by bountiful supplies of cheap natural gas. The declining cost of renewable power, including wind and solar, is also forecast to play a role in reducing emissions.
When Mr. Trump announced his intention to withdraw from Paris in June, executives at many U.S. companies, in the energy sector and beyond, signaled that they intended to continue taking steps to reduce emissions by their companies.
States and cities around the U.S. also vowed to adhere to their own aggressive climate policies, independent of the federal government.