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A sign from Saturday's Peoples Climate March sister action in Chicago. (Photo: Max Herman/Survival Media Agency)

Trump Risks Turning US Into 'Global Climate Deadbeat' by Withdrawing From Paris

Pulling out of climate deal 'would be a disaster for the United States because it would provoke international blowback [and] harm our global leadership role'

Deirdre Fulton

With the Trump administration reportedly on the verge of withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement, environmental groups are warning that doing so could make the U.S. an international pariah.

"Withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement would turn America from a global climate leader into a global climate deadbeat."
—Annie Leonard, Greenpeace

News outlets reported Tuesday that the White House could announce as soon as next week that it is pulling out of the 195-nation pact, as President Donald Trump pledged to do on the campaign trail. According to the New York Times, "[t]he decision could hinge on the interpretation of a single phrase in a single provision of a document that took years to write."

The Times reported:

The provision at issue, Article 4.11, states that a nation "may at any time adjust its existing nationally determined contribution with a view to enhancing its level of ambition." The question is whether the ability to "adjust" is like a ratchet, allowing progress only in one direction—upward—or if it permits a country to weaken its commitment without violating the terms of the deal.

Politico further explains:

Opponents of the Paris agreement have made a two-pronged legal case for withdrawing. The first, which [Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott] Pruitt has raised in recent weeks, argues that staying in the Paris deal creates a legal opening for climate advocates to use the courts to challenge Trump's efforts to undo Obama's climate regulations for power plants. The second suggests that the terms of the Paris agreement don't allow any country to reduce its emissions targets.

[White House counsel Don] McGahn, sources said, raised both of those arguments during the Thursday meeting, and on Monday reiterated the concern that Paris could be cited in court challenges to Trump's efforts to kill Obama's climate rules. McGahn's comments shocked State Department lawyers, who strongly reject both of those contentions, the sources said.

Meanwhile, according to the Huffington Post:

A source in the State Department said a document circulating in the agency this week contained legal justifications for a U.S. exit from the Paris Agreement. The document, obtained by HuffPost, seemed to originate from State's legal office, according to the source, and almost immediately caused anxiety among State staff who work on climate issues. "People were calling around, asking if it was real or fake," said the source, who requested anonymity in order to discuss internal agency documents.

The memo indicates the Trump administration could officially withdraw on Nov. 9, 2019. The withdrawal would be complete one year later.

And that, said Greenpeace executive director Annie Leonard on Tuesday, "would turn America from a global climate leader into a global climate deadbeat."

"Global climate action is not a legal or political debate, it's a moral obligation to protect our planet and people," she said. "That is what almost 200 countries agreed to do in Paris, and if the Trump administration plans to withdraw from the agreement, then other leaders and company CEOs should call the U.S. government out and hold them to account."

Sierra Club global climate policy director John Coequyt, similarly added that pulling out of Paris "would be a disaster for the United States because it would provoke international blowback [and] harm our global leadership role."

To that end, Axios reports, environmentalists are now urging other countries to increase pressure on the U.S. to stay in the accord, just as "the leaders of Mexico and Canada reportedly called Trump and persuaded him to renegotiate instead of terminate NAFTA."

A source told the outlet: "One of the things we're doing as the green group contingency is to talk to other countries to make sure to tell them that now is the time to make your voice heard."

Fiji seems to have gotten the message; on Wednesday, Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama urged Trump to "stay the course," declaring of the U.S.: "We can't have one of our best performers abandon the field of play."

"Listen to those around you who are encouraging you to do so," said the leader of the tiny Pacific nation. "Don't let the whole team down by leaving when we have a clear game plan and have put so many scores on the board."

The Trump administration's latest environmental affront comes on the heels of last weekend's massive Peoples Climate March, which saw hundreds of thousands of people in the U.S. and abroad calling for climate action.

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