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Trump Waffles on the Paris Climate Accord

Published: April 26, 2017 by Editorial Team

Mik McKee, The Climate Trust
April 26, 2017

This past week I attended a family gathering just outside of Washington, D.C. Over the weekend we walked along the Washington Mall, just missing the cherry blossoms, but catching the city on a beautiful, and unseasonably warm, April day. In conversations with family and friends who live in the nation’s capital, I heard repeatedly that there is a new feeling in D.C. – the arrival of the Trump Administration and their staff have apparently brought a palpable change to the zeitgeist of the city.

I don’t know if that feeling is true, or perhaps the misperception of people who generally supported the Obama Administration’s policies, particularly his actions on fighting climate change. In either case, my recent visit to the Capital has me wondering again what impact the Trump Administration will have on our climate.

Last week was supposed to be a big week for the Trump Administration regarding climate policy. As we all well know, during the campaign Trump repeatedly called for canceling the Paris climate accord. To this end he was quick to appoint Scott Pruitt, a well-known climate change skeptic, to head the EPA—the agency that Obama largely tasked with meeting emissions reductions targets. Pruitt has repeatedly voiced his opinion that the U.S. should exit the Paris agreement as soon as feasibly possible.

However, Trump has also selected a few members of his cabinet and close advisors who take a more rational approach to climate change, whatever their underlying motivations might be. Secretary of Defense Mattis and National Security Advisor McMaster understand that climate change poses a direct threat to global stability, and by default, national security. In 2015, the Department of Defense released a report addressing the security implications of climate change. Regardless of politics, it is undeniable that Mattis and McMaster are distinguished military leaders dedicated to serving and protecting this country. Because of that, I think they will oppose any attempts to exit the Paris Agreement.

Others in the Trump Administration have already come out in support of remaining in the Paris climate accord. Secretary of State Tillerson has publicly stated he is in favor of “keeping a seat at the table.” This has prompted a number of business leaders to come out in support of remaining in the Paris Agreement as well. Additionally, Gary Cohn, Trump’s National Economic Council director, and reportedly the Administration’s lone Democrat, has also thrown his support behind taking action on climate change. This makes sense considering he, and several other Trump cabinet members and close advisors, come from Goldman Sachs. Goldman Sachs has taken the public position that climate change is real and is caused by human activity. Furthermore, Goldman believes that markets can and should play a role in addressing climate change—a position that should find traction on both sides of the aisle.

I am under no illusion that figuring out what to do about climate change is the number one issue being debated by the various factions within the Administration. However, it is reasonable to assume that it is contributing to the infighting. Trump reportedly listens to and acts upon the last argument he hears from his advisors, so hopefully the adults will prevail.

Reportedly Trump still plans to make a decision about the U.S. commitment to the Paris Agreement before a meeting of the Group of 7 leading economies at the end of May. While there is increasing evidence that Trump may decide to stay in the Paris Accord, there is little doubt in my mind that the Administration will produce an emissions reduction plan that is industry-friendly, essentially taking no meaningful action at all. Even though a watered down emissions reduction policy is likely, I am increasingly optimistic that the momentum behind climate action is going to overwhelm Trump’s efforts to take us backwards. Whether this is through state mandated plans like we see in New York, municipal action like we see in California, the International Air Transport Association’s commitment to stabilize emissions, or the ever increasing demand for residential and commercial scale solar projects, the writing is one the wall. Perhaps no more so than in the heart of coal country, where the Kentucky Coal Museum, an organization that showcases “the lives that revolve around the coal industry” now report they get their power from solar panels—because it is cheaper. It’s hard to argue with that.

Image credit: Flickr/Moyan Brenn