Decoding Trump’s Expected Withdrawal from Paris Agreement

President Trump is expected to leave the Paris Agreement. The entire world was part of the agreement which will reshape how economies and societies function in the 21st century. Trump will have to make the case that walking away from the table is best for the United States. The Decoder will look at how this is covered across the news spectrum and why it is important.



Paris Agreement Participants (Presidencia de la Republica Mexicana)

What Happened:

News broke that President Trump is leaning toward pulling the US out of the Paris Climate Agreement. The Paris Agreement was crafted in late 2015 as a framework for cutting carbon emissions and adapting to the impacts of climate change. 197 nations signed the agreement. The U.S. had considerable clout in crafting the agreement. Only Syria and Nicaragua have not joined the agreement.

Trump has said he will decide this week whether to exit the agreement. During his campaign, he said he would leave.


Note: For more background on what the Paris Agreement actually does – check out this article. Disclaimer: The NRDC is a supporter of the Agreement. Here is another quick FAQ from the LA Times.


The Coverage:

The news is unified on the crux of this story: Trump is expected to leave the Paris Agreement. As President, Trump has not made his case for leaving the agreement yet.

Fox News notes that European leaders pressed Trump to remain in the deal last week. Fox provides little details of the deal except for this paragraph:

“The accord, agreed to by the Obama administration along with almost 200 other countries in 2015, would have forced the U.S. to reduce fossil fuel emissions by nearly 30 percent by 2025.”

Other news sources are similar in providing scant detail about the agreement, but may use other semantics such as suggesting it was agreed to by the U.S. (compared to the Obama administration).

The New York Times reports that much of the internal focus in the White House is figuring out how to withdraw, not whether or not to withdraw. The New York Times believes his rationale is that withdrawing will be approved of by Trump’s supporters in former coal towns and remain consistent with Trump’s “America First” message. The Times also reports that there is a high level of debate within the White House over whether to stay or leave.

The Associated Press, CNN, NBC focus on two facts.

1.) The rest of the world is aligned in supporting the Paris agreement to limit carbon emissions

2.) This is a divisive decision within the White House. Steve Bannon and EPA director Scott Pruit support leaving the agreement. Rex Tillerson and Ivanka Trump oppose leaving.

So far, there is little coverage of the consequences of leaving.



Decoding this is a challenge for several reasons. One is that the media is not reporting on what the Paris Agreement entails or what the consequences will be. Second is that this is not an issue where there are two hotly contested viewpoints. The rest of the world, Democrats, many Republicans, hundreds of the largest businesses and the Pope agree that climate change is real and action by the US could reap huge benefits. The proponents of pulling out are those who are tied to the coal industry in some way – obviously a smaller segment.

First let’s clear up some facts about climate change. Yes, it is real. Yes, the impacts of climate change will be catastrophic. Yes, renewable energies are very rapidly becoming more cost-effective than other sources which is just one reason coal jobs will likely never come back significantly.

The Paris Agreement represents one of the few issues that the entire world came together in agreement on. The United States, being an economic leader as well as leader in innovation to combat emissions, was able to decide how this deal would be framed and persuade other countries to join.

1.) Is it better to lead in the climate change battle or go it alone? This is the debate taking place in the White House. Rex Tillerson, former CEO of Exxon Mobil, wants the US to remain in the deal because he wants the US to continue setting the rules as adaptation to climate change takes place. Scott Pruitt wants to leave the agreement because it creates regulations on the coal industry which are harming jobs in places like Kentucky and West Virginia. If the US leaves, climate change does not go away. But the leadership is adapting to climate change will.


2.) What is the benefit of leaving? Scott Pruitt and Mitch McConnell argue that the benefit is jobs. Regulations prevent coal plants from opening. Remove those regulations and jobs will return. On the other hand, leaving will exclude the US from trade deals, from investment, and from political decision making as the rest of the world crafts a sustainable civilization. Is there an economic benefit? Is there a political benefit to not being in the room when the rest of the world makes these decisions? Is it good for our national security to ignore climate change? Is leaving good for the environment?


3.) If Trump pulls out, what can you do? This is important to consider because this issue is so large and will be so transformative in the 21st century. This is at the heart of asking what you want the world to look like. There is no escaping climate change. It comes with great risks of catastrophe and great opportunities to reshape everyday life in new and profound ways. Fossil fuels were linked to the manufacturing era and renewable energy will be linked to the next era civilization. Consider that many states have been active in addressing carbon emissions. Also consider that many businesses are adapting and supporting change.  Reaching out to the policymakers in your state and the businesses you buy from and sharing your thoughts will determine whether further action is taken toward climate change or whether it’s better to let others deal with it, however they may like.



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