WASHINGTON, May 16, 2017 - President Trump may announce at the G7 meeting May 27 whether he will carry out his campaign promise to withdraw from the Paris climate accord. With this postponed deadline in sight, advocates on both sides of the issue are lobbying hard for their positions.
One possible sign of a pro-Paris decision is that U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson joined Russia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden last week in signing the Arctic Council’s Fairbanks Declaration. This latest addition to international climate agreements formally recognizes “the importance of climate science,” notes “the Arctic is warming at more than twice the rate of the global average,” and reiterates “the need for global action to reduce both long-lived greenhouse gases and short-lived climate pollutants.”
Tillerson’s signed commitment to address climate change contrasts with the climate skepticism repeatedly voiced by President Trump, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and Energy Secretary Rick Perry. This sharp divide within the Trump administration has policymakers in the U.S. and around the world on edge as they await Trump’s decision.
Twice, Trump has postponed his promised verdict on whether to withdraw from the November 2015 Paris climate agreement jointly championed by China and the Obama administration. The current expectation is that Trump will announce his stay-or-quit decision following the G7 meeting of heads of government in Sicily May 26-27. Presumably, this delay will provide deal-maker Trump an opportunity to negotiate one-on-one with his fellow world leaders at the meeting to win a better deal for the U.S.
China and other parties to the 197-nation climate agreement have been lobbying aggressively for continued U.S. participation in the global initiative. They insist that the Paris terms are loose enough to allow the U.S. to remain at the table even if the U.S. lowers its emissions reduction target well below Obama’s goal of a 26-28 percent reduction from 2005 levels by 2025.
But a number of conservative groups are pressing hard for a complete rejection of the Paris agreement. Joined by 42 other free-market groups, Myron Ebell, the Competitive Enterprise Institute director who led Trump’s EPA transition team, and American Energy Alliance President Thomas Pyle, who led Trump’s DOE transition team, wrote Trump last week “in enthusiastic support of your campaign commitments to withdraw fully from the Paris Climate Treaty and to stop all taxpayer funding of UN global warming programs.”
Countering pro-Paris arguments that the Paris agreement is non-binding, the joint letter insists instead that sticking with Paris would invite lawsuits seeking compliance. It also warns that the agreement’s “commitment to reduce fossil fuel use every five years cannot be wished away by those who argue that the U. S. should keep a seat at the negotiating table in order to advocate for fossil fuels.”
The leading voice of U.S. agriculture is also in the anti-Paris camp. Farm Bureau Congressional Relations Director Andrew Walmsley tells Agri-Pulse that while he doesn’t think the organization has publicly advocated for withdrawal, “we’ve got policy that opposes ratification of any international agreement that binds the U.S. to control greenhouse gases.”
Walmsley says Farm Bureau naturally supports developing renewable energy including wind, solar, and biofuels. But he says that advancing renewables should be driven by the market, not international mandates. He adds, “We’d much rather do it at the local level or the state level and there’s always a hesitancy once you get to the international level, particularly on something like this that impacts our natural resources and limits the way we’re able to manage them.”
Farm Bureau’s member-voted policy book states the case clearly. It says AFBF opposes:
- “Ratification of any international agreements binding the United States to control greenhouse gases;
- U.S. Senate approval of any environmental treaty without the use of sound science ensuring our nation is not placed at a disadvantage or our sovereignty threatened;
- The creation of any global environmental agency with extensive powers to regulate the world's environment;
- Regulation of carbon dioxide under the Montreal Protocol; and
- The United Nations being given any authority or regulatory power over the natural resources of the United States.”
Ernie Shea, project coordinator for the 25x’25 Alliance, offers a very different farm-sector perspective.
Calling on Trump to endorse the Paris agreement, he writes that “the agreement presents a tremendous opportunity for U.S. agriculture, which can offer major reductions in GHGs (greenhouse gases) through the soil carbon sequestration that comes from conservation tillage and cover crops, improved grazing systems, the restoration of degraded agricultural soils and grasslands, and agroforestry.”
Shea adds that “recent (USDA) lifecycle analyses also point out that the use of biofuels in our transportation system significantly reduces emissions when compared to the use of petroleum-based fuels” and that “the capture and conversion of methane from livestock facilities to useful energy also helps to reduce emissions."
National Farmers Union is also a strong supporter of the Paris accord. In an April letter to Trump, NFU President Roger Johnson wrote that “Farmers are on the front lines of climate change, and they have been experiencing costly disruption from climate change for some time.” Johnson called on Trump to “maintain our existing commitments under the Paris Agreement,” adding that “The contributions rural communities can make under the agreement will drive economic growth in the countryside and make American agriculture more resilient to extreme weather.”ns.”
More pro-Paris urging comes from major U.S. corporations. Echoing President Trump’s favorite job-creation themes, American business is voicing strong support for sticking with the Paris agreement. Stay at the table, industry leaders insist, because that’s the best road to “strengthening competitiveness . . . supporting sound investment . . . creating jobs, markets and growth . . . minimizing costs . . . (and) reducing business risks. . .”
This list of potential benefits comes from an April 26 letter to Trump from 16 leading companies including Apple, BP, DuPont, General Mills, Novartis, Rio Tinto, Shell, and Walmart. A similar letter to all G7 leaders from 217 investors including CalPERS, the largest U.S. public pension fund, states that “as long-term institutional investors, we believe that the mitigation of climate change is essential for the safeguarding of our investments.” The letter calls on world leaders to “implement the Paris Agreement” and “drive investment into the low carbon transition through aligning climate-related policies, phasing out fossil fuel subsidies, and including carbon pricing where appropriate.”
Another sign of strong business-sector support comes from the Business Backs Low-Carbon USA campaign. More than 1,000 companies and investors have signed the group’s joint appeal to “President Trump, Members of the U.S. Congress, and Global Leaders,” calling for “continuation of low-carbon policies to allow the U.S. to meet or exceed our promised national commitment and to increase our nation’s future ambition.”
According to the Low-Carbon campaign, “Implementing the Paris Agreement will enable and encourage businesses and investors to turn the billions of dollars in existing low-carbon investments into the trillions of dollars the world needs to bring clean energy and prosperity to all.”
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