U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to decide this week whether to pull the United States out of the Paris climate-change accord, even as major U.S. energy interests urge him to remain inside the treaty to defend their global interests.
The President's decision on whether to remain in the Paris accord will have little direct impact on U.S. policy. Mr. Trump and his Environmental Protection Agency director Scott Pruitt have made it clear they intend to dismantle their predecessors' climate policies and promote the production and consumption of coal, oil and natural gas, which produce greenhouse gas emissions.
However, a U.S. withdrawal would have reverberations internationally as 50 of 197 signatory countries have yet to ratify the deal, including major energy producers such as Russia, Venezuela, Iran and Iraq. Mr. Trump's truculence may encourage other energy-producing countries to back away from what was touted in December, 2015, as a global consensus on the need for dramatic action.
It would also bring heightened political risk for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is under fire from Conservative opposition and some members of the business community for pressing ahead with climate-change policies – including a national carbon-pricing plan – when Canada's major trading partner is so aggressively backing away.
Canada assumed the presidency this weekend of the Group of Seven summit for 2018, and the Prime Minister has already indicated climate change will remain a key priority in all the meetings leading up to next year's leaders' summit, despite Mr. Trump's opposition.
Given the U.S domestic agenda, there is a view that the world would be better off if the Trump administration does pull out of the agreement, rather than stay in and obstruct its implementation.
"I think it's a big risk for the rest of the parties to have them at the table," Silvia Maciunas, deputy director of the environmental law program at the Waterloo-based Centre for International Governance Innovation, said in an interview Monday. "We haven't really seen what they will say or do, but if they come in and use the ability of any party to block a decision, then they could really slow things down."
While the framework of the deal was adopted in 2015, countries continue to negotiate its implementation and Ms. Maciunas argues the Trump administration could water down provisions for the benefit of the fossil-fuel industry. The United States would have to give four-years' notice to exit the accord, but could simply stop participating once it gives notice.
There is broad corporate support in the United States for Mr. Trump to remain in the Paris deal. Along with a host of other companies, Exxon Mobil Corp. supports U.S. engagement in Paris, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson – a former Exxon Mobil chief executive – has said the Trump administration needs a "seat at the table" to protect the country's interests.
Two leading coal producers, Cloud Peak Energy Inc. and Peabody Energy Corp., have also lobbied the White House to stay inside the deal in order to defend the coal industry. At this past weekend's G7 summit, Mr. Trump was lobbied by other leaders to remain inside the Paris deal. The 2017 G7 communiqué highlighted U.S. isolation on the topic, noting the United States was "reviewing its policies," and was not in a position to join the consensus of other leaders who reaffirmed their support for the Paris accord.
Ms. Maciunas noted that the United States is not bound by the Paris accord to achieve a certain reduced level of emissions and can water down its own commitment. However, there is a legal requirement for a party to the agreement to act in good faith to meet whatever target it sets, and to monitor and report on its progress. Those obligations could prove politically embarrassing to a government if it has no intention of meeting its commitments.
By staying in the agreement, Mr. Trump may also be vulnerable to litigation as environmental groups launch legal challenges over his effort to roll back existing regulations. Critics already cite court rulings that require governments to enforce environmental legislation, including regulating greenhouse gas emissions. Their legal arguments could gain added weight if they can demonstrate Mr. Trump is flouting an international agreement.
Despite the risks of having the Trump administration at the negotiating table, many U.S. environmental groups share the view of the G7 leaders that it is better to have the United States inside the tent than outside.