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Trump could ditch Paris climate deal — or he could do something much more extreme


What if Trump doesn’t just abandon the Paris climate deal, but also the 25-year-old international treaty that made the deal possible?
PALM SPRINGS, Calif. — World leaders have been waiting for President Trump’s decision on the Paris climate deal, a global agreement to limit planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions.
On Wednesday, they faced a new question: What if Trump doesn’t just abandon the Paris deal, but also the 25-year-old international treaty that made the deal possible?
At stake is the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which was negotiated at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, approved by the U. S. Senate with no opposition and signed by President George H. W. Bush. If the Trump administration were to withdraw the United States from the framework convention, experts say, it would send a stunning message to the rest of the world: America doesn’t even want to talk about climate change, let alone take action to slow its steady advance.
“That strikes me as a massively insulting message to the diplomatic community and the global community, ” said Ann Carlson, co-director of the Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at UCLA. “The Trump administration is already annihilating climate policies across the board in a lot of ways. Withdrawing from the (framework convention) would be more serious, and really flipping the bird.”
Stephanie Kinney, a former State Department diplomat, was one of the lead U. S. negotiators on the 1992 climate treaty. The biggest consequence of pulling out of the Paris agreement and the framework convention, she said, would be ceding American leadership on renewable energy technologies to China, Germany and India.
“What is really upsetting and amazing to people like me is that now the United States has gone backward. And the rest of the world understands what this administration apparently does not, ” Kinney said, referring to the ongoing global transition away from coal and toward cleaner sources of energy, including solar, wind and natural gas. “The United States is about to give away the markets, the technology and the jobs.”
A White House official told reporters Wednesday morning that the U. S. would withdraw from the 195-nation Paris accord, seemingly ending months of speculation. But Trump cast doubt on that assertion a few hours later, telling reporters he hadn’t yet made a decision.
It’s not clear how much difference a U. S. withdrawal from Paris would make to global carbon emissions, which an overwhelming majority of climate scientists says is causing global warming. As part of the Paris deal, the U. S. promised to reduce its emissions at least 26% below 2005 levels by 2025. But even under the policies pursued by the Obama administration, that goal was already going to be difficult to reach. Now that Trump is working to roll back Obama’s policies, America is extremely unlikely to live up to its international commitments, according to a recent analysis by the Rhodium Group.
Under a best-case scenario, Rhodium analysts found, the U. S. could see its emissions fall 19%, largely driven by cheap natural gas, the falling costs of solar and wind power, and state policies that support renewable energy. But there’s a lot more the Trump administration could still do to push back against those changes. If federal officials manage to undo vehicle fuel-efficiency standards, or to reverse regulations limiting methane emissions from oil and gas operations — moves that are expected to face legal challenges — the U. S. could fall much further short of its Paris commitment.
“The Trump administration has made clear so far what they intend to do, ” said Kate Larsen, a co-author of the Rhodium Group report.
The Paris deal is non-binding, meaning the U. S. could stay in and face no legal consequences for failing to cut emissions sufficiently. And while some observers say an official withdrawal would signal to the rest of the world that America is no longer serious about climate, others say the Trump administration has already made that abundantly clear. In addition to unraveling Obama-era climate policies, the White House released a budget last week that would decimate federal spending on clean energy and climate research. And officials have said the U. S. won’t give money to poor countries to help them address climate change, which was promised as part of the Paris deal.
“We’ve already taken steps that say, ‘We don’t agree on climate change and we’re not going to do anything about it.’ We’ve already said to the global community, ‘We’re not going to live up to our commitments, ‘” said Carlson, the UCLA climate law expert.
A Paris withdrawal would still be symbolically significant, potentially making it harder for leaders of other countries to convince their own citizens that cutting emissions makes sense. And if Trump were to take the more extreme step of leaving the U. N. Framework Convention on Climate Change — which he’s now considering, Axios reported Wednesday — that would send an even louder message to the rest of the world.
The 1992 treaty has facilitated the last 25 years of global climate dialogue, including the annual conferences that produced the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the 2009 Copenhagen Accord and the 2015 Paris deal. If the U. S. were to withdraw, it would lose its seat at the table in future international negotiations, leaving states like California and New York to represent the world’s biggest economy, and its second largest carbon emitter.
The framework convention also requires countries to study and report their climate emissions. That mandate has led the Environmental Protection Agency to produce annual U. S. greenhouse gas inventories, which have become an important tool for researchers, policymakers, journalists and the public. If Trump rejects the framework convention, those reports could cease, making it harder to know how much carbon America is spewing into the atmosphere and which economic sectors it’s coming from.
Withdrawal from the framework convention could also hamstring future presidents who want to fight climate change, since they’d need a two-thirds Senate vote to re-ratify the treaty. At the same time, it’s not clear whether Trump could pull out of the 1992 treaty on his own, or whether he’d need a two-thirds vote from the Senate. A recent report from the Congressional Research Service said there’s no clear answer to that question.
Kinney, who helped negotiate the framework convention, said the 1992 treaty has done enormous good for the world, creating a durable process for addressing climate change and encouraging many countries to establish environment ministries for the first time.

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