Will the U.S. pull out of the Paris Agreement?

Siddharth Singh
Apr 18, 2017 · 3 min read

The Paris Agreement has 194 global signatories and aims to hold the increase in the global average temperature to “well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels”. It is the most aggressive global climate agreement to date, although it still falls short in many ways.

Donald Trump called for the pull out from this agreement on the campaign trail. The argument is that the deal will kill coal and other energy industry jobs. Now that he is President, will the U.S. pull out of the deal?

Here’s where the administration, the energy industry and lobby groups stand today:

Against the Paris Agreement:

The administration:

  • Donald J. Trump (President)
  • Stephen K. Bannon (senior strategist)
  • Scott Pruitt (head of the Environmental Protection Agency)

The energy industry and political lobby groups:

  • Kevin Cramer (Republican from oil and coal rich North Dakota)
  • Tim Phillip (the president of Americans for Prosperity)
  • Harold G. Hamm (the chief executive of Continental Resources)
  • Many economists at the Heritage Foundation
  • Bob Murray (the chief executive of the coal company Murray Energy)

For staying in the Paris Agreement:

The administration:

  • Rex Tillerson (Secretary of State)
  • James Mattis (Defense Secretary)
  • Ivanka Trump (first daughter and adviser)
  • Jared Kushner (first son-in-law and adviser)
  • George David Banks (climate policy adviser)

The energy industry:

  • Royal Dutch Shell
  • BP
  • Exxon Mobil

Balance of Power:

In the administration, the group pushing for the U.S. to stay in the agreement seems to be holding sway at the moment, especially as Bannon finds himself short of influence lately.

Outside the administration, the coal industry is leading the call to pull out of the agreement, as they understand that their industry will be disrupted as countries adopt renewable energy and natural gas for power production. Additionally, President Trump himself promised to rescue the coal industry on the campaign.

Oil and gas companies do not fear for their existence even with the Paris Agreement in place as there are few economically viable substitutes for oil, and they expect the demand for natural gas to actually increase as countries wean from coal. However, President Trump’s politics is not married to the oil and gas industry, save for his choice of Secretary of State.

There is, of course, another factor that will come into play: by losing a seat at the table, the U.S. will cede power to China at a leading global institution. It will also alienate allies, which could have ramifications. The non-ratification of the Kyoto Protocol by the U.S. was brought up years later when the U.S. was scouting for allies in the run up of the Iraq war, for instance. The hope is that General Mattis and his team have been flagging this issue.

Perhaps the American military establishment would also support staying in the agreement, given they seem to be preparing for climate change themselves.

An additional practical matter is that it takes four years to pull out of the agreement (the deal was very intentionally designed to be this way). However, the pull out from UNFCCC itself would take only one year.

The decision will not be an easy one to make. In the words of President Trump on a different policy issue, “no one knew it could be so complicated”.

Culture of Energy

The next great energy transition awaits.

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