WASHINGTON (AP) – President Donald Trump is expected to withdraw the United States from a landmark global climate agreement, a White House official said Wednesday, though Trump and aides were looking for “caveats in the language” related to the exit and had not made a final decision.
“I’m hearing from a lot of people both ways,” Trump told reporters as he welcomed Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc to the White House. He said he’d be announcing his decision “very soon.”
Leaving the deal would fulfill a central campaign pledge but would anger international allies who spent years in difficult negotiations that produced an accord to reduce carbon emissions.
Trump faced considerable pressure to hold to the deal during visits with European leaders and Pope Francis on his recent trip abroad. The president and his aides were finalizing the details of a pullout, an official said, insisting on anonymity to discuss the decision before an official announcement.
While Trump currently favors an exit, he has been known to change his thinking on major decisions and tends to seek counsel from a range of inside and outside advisers, many with differing agendas, until the last minute.
A second White House official, who was not authorized to discuss private conversations and also insisted on anonymity, said Trump had not made a final decision on how to proceed.
Trump’s top aides have been divided.
He was to meet later Wednesday with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who has favored remaining in the agreement. Chief strategist Steve Bannon supports an exit, as does Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt. Senior adviser Jared Kushner generally thinks the deal is bad but would like to find a way to see if U.S. emissions targets can be changed.
Trump’s influential daughter Ivanka Trump’s preference is to stay, but she made it a priority to establish a review process so her father heard from all sides, said one of the officials.
Nearly 200 nations, including the United States under President Barack Obama’s administration, agreed in 2015 to voluntarily reduce their greenhouse gas emissions in an effort to combat climate change. Withdrawing would leave the United States aligned only with Russia among the world’s industrialized economies.
A senior European Union official said the EU and China would reaffirm their commitment to the pact regardless of what Trump did, and would spell out, during talks Friday in Brussels, how they would meet their obligations. The official, who is involved in preparing the meeting between EU officials and China’s premier, was not authorized to speak publicly and discussed the matter on condition of anonymity because the meeting statement was not finalized.
News of Trump’s expected decision drew swift reaction from the United Nations. The organization’s main Twitter page quoted Secretary-General Antonio Guterres as saying, “Climate change is undeniable. Climate change is unstoppable. Climate solutions provide opportunities that are unmatchable.”
The Sierra Club’s executive director, Michael Brune, called the expected move a “historic mistake which our grandchildren will look back on with stunned dismay at how a world leader could be so divorced from reality and morality.”
The House Democratic leader, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, referred to it as “a stunning abdication of American leadership and a grave threat to our planet’s future.”
Trump claimed before taking office that climate change was a “hoax” created by the Chinese to hurt the U.S. economy, an assertion that stands in defiance of broad scientific consensus.
But Trump’s chief White House economic adviser, Gary Cohn, told reporters during the trip abroad that Trump’s views on climate change were “evolving” following the president’s discussions with European leaders.
Still, he said that the carbon levels agreed to by the prior administration “would be highly crippling to the U.S. economic growth,” and said that, if the president had to choose between limiting carbon and economic growth, “growing our economy is going to win.” Supporters of the deal say it’s not an either-or choice.
Word of Trump’s expected decision came a day after the president met with Pruitt. Like his boss, the EPA head has questioned the consensus of climate scientists that the Earth is warming and that man-made emissions are to blame.
Once in power, Trump and Pruitt have moved to delay or roll back federal regulations limiting greenhouse gas emissions while pledging to revive long-struggling U.S. coal mines.
What is not yet clear is whether Trump plans to initiate a formal withdrawal from the Paris accord, which under the terms of the agreement could take three years, or exit the underlying U.N. climate change treaty on which the accord was based.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and 21 other Republican sent Trump a letter last week urging him to follow through on his campaign pledge to pull out of the climate accord. Most of the senators who signed are from states that depend on the continued burning of coal, oil and gas.
Hundreds of high-profile businesses have spoken out in favor of the deal, including Apple, Google and Walmart. Even fossil fuel companies such as Exxon Mobil, BP and Shell say the United States should abide by the deal.
In Congress, 40 Democratic senators sent Trump a letter saying withdrawal would hurt America’s credibility and influence on the world stage.
Scientists say that the earth is likely to reach more dangerous levels of warming even sooner if the U.S. retreats from its pledge because America contributes so much to rising temperatures. Scientists suggest dropping out could result in emissions of up to 3 billion tons of additional carbon dioxide a year – enough to melt ice sheets faster, raise seas higher and trigger more extreme weather.
The U.S. is the world’s second-largest emitter of carbon, following only China. Beijing, however, has reaffirmed its commitment to meeting its targets under the Paris accord, recently canceling construction of about 100 coal-fired power plants and investing billions in massive wind and solar projects.
Associated Press writers Jill Colvin and Michael Biesecker in Washington, and Lorne Cook in Brussels, contributed to this report.