Author: ANDREW RESTUCCIA, KALINA OROSCHAKOFF AND SARA STEFANINI
European leaders are working to persuade President Donald Trump to remain in the Paris climate change agreement, warning of dire diplomatic consequences if the United States withdraws and stressing that the administration would not be bound by Barack Obama’s plan to tackle global warming.
But they’re also uncertain how best to influence the unpredictable U.S. president — and fearful of angering him if they overplay their hand. So the European officials are mixing diplomacy with quiet attempts to get their message into news coverage and social media, while avoiding any mentions of the retaliation that some angry foreign leaders might pursue if Trump exits the deal.
The coordinated, behind-the-scenes campaign includes efforts by the European Commission and key European Union countries like Germany, France and the United Kingdom, diplomats told POLITICO. They said they’re underscoring the harm that would result if the world’s second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases were to abandon the most extensive global deal ever reached for addressing climate change.
“Almost anyone that is aware of this debate and is politically engaged in climate is trying to influence this outcome in any way possible,” said an international diplomat, who like others quoted in this story requested anonymity to discuss the sensitive campaign.
Trump’s top advisers are set to huddle Tuesday to discuss the fate of the 2015 agreement, and a final decision could come soon afterward.
The debate has divided his most senior aides, with his daughter-in-law Ivanka Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in favor of remaining in the pact. Others, including senior White House adviser Steven Bannon and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, support leaving the deal, as Trump pledged while campaigning on his nationalist “America First” platform.
Seeking to press their case, European officials have had regular conversations in recent days and weeks with White House and administration advisers, including aides at the State Department, National Security Council and National Economic Council.
Western diplomats say they fear that a U.S. withdrawal could result in a “domino effect” prompting other countries to follow suit, in the words of one official. “We are trying to clarify that politically, legally, economically, it does make sense for the U.S. to remain,” the official said.
European diplomats have largely avoided playing hardball, deliberately eschewing any mention of possible retaliation if the U.S. withdraws, sources said. While the Paris agreement does not include any punitive measures if a country withdraws, individual countries could impose trade-related measures that make it more difficult to do business with nations that pull out of the deal. But international officials insist they are not considering such steps.
But not all the European governments are certain to whom they should make their case. Not only is the White House divided, but the State Department has few if any political appointees focused on climate change. And while diplomats stressed that they understand where individual Trump advisers stand on Paris, they are sometimes unsure about the best way to directly influence the president, short of a one-on-one conversation with a head of government.
It’s unclear whether foreign leaders will take their case directly to Trump, but diplomats didn’t rule out that option.
Lacking insider information about Trump’s plans, international officials have sometimes relied on the abundant media reports about the closed-door dispute. Diplomats focused on international climate change issues told POLITICO they had never seen inner deliberations leaked to the media as regularly as they have been during the Trump administration’s internal debate over Paris.
Administration advocates for withdrawing from the pact argue that remaining would present legal complications for Trump’s efforts to undo Obama’s domestic climate agenda — a fear that State Department lawyers who helped negotiate the agreement call unfounded. Trump’s White House counsel has echoed those concerns in recent days, which some administration officials see as an indication that Trump will ultimately decide to withdraw.
Even so, several administration officials cautioned that things could change, pointing to Trump’s last-minute decision last month to remain in NAFTA.
European diplomats increasingly see the media as a character in the drama surrounding Trump’s Paris decision, hoping that news coverage of their arguments will make its way to the media-obsessed president.
In doing so, international officials and environmentalists have found themselves in the bizarre position of insisting that Trump has the flexibility to weaken the carbon-reduction commitments that the Obama administration made in Paris — despite their strong desire to see them strengthened over time.
EU Climate Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete released a statement Wednesday saying the Paris agreement contains room “for a new U.S. Administration to chart its own path.” The statement appeared intended to rebut the internal arguments by some Trump advisers who contend the deal prevents countries from weakening their domestic climate targets.
Sources said Arias Cañete has reached out to senior White House and administration officials this week to raise concerns about the possibility of a withdrawal, and persuade the U.S. of the political and economic advantages of staying in the deal.
Laurence Tubiana, who in her capacity as France’s climate ambassador played a key role in clinching the Paris deal, took to Twitter on Thursday to say the American people will lose if the “US government denies them clean energy, green jobs clean air and water and abandons” the pact.
In an interview with POLITICO, she also said the U.S. is not legally bound to stick with Obama’s pledge to cut domestic carbon emissions by 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. “That’s totally fair from the point of view of the legal aspect of the agreement,” she said when asked whether the U.S. could alter its target, adding, “This is not a binding element of the agreement.”
She stressed nonetheless that she hopes the U.S. doesn’t change its target, explaining that doing so isn’t illegal, but also isn’t in the “spirit” of the agreement.
On Thursday, European Council President Donald Tusk took a stab at coaxing the U.S. to stay, urging Washington to look at Norway as an example of a country that’s tackling climate change and developing renewable energy, while still benefiting from big fossil fuel exports.
“The Norwegian example should provide encouragement to our American friends, as the climate challenge we all face can only be addressed by common global action,” Tusk said during a news conference with Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg in Brussels.
Frank Bainimarama, the prime minister of Fiji and incoming president of the ongoing international climate talks, joined in the chorus warning Trump not to withdraw. “Stay the course,” he said earlier this week. “Listen to those around you who are encouraging you to do so.”
Separately, a coalition of small island nations that are vulnerable to the effects of climate change said in a Thursday statement that the Paris deal is their “last hope for the survival.”
An international diplomat who declined to be named said it is “very clear which country we had in mind when” the small island nations adopted their statement.
“The bad feeling generated among the other 143 countries that have ratified the Paris agreement would infect all areas of U.S. diplomatic interests — not just climate change,” the diplomat added. “Everybody would lose.”
Indeed, a withdrawal would infuriate the international community, which took pains to ensure that the Paris deal was largely not legally binding at the insistence of the Obama administration. Many world leaders, who had preferred a more stringent agreement, would see a U.S. pullback as a slap in the face.
Diplomats said a withdrawal would also revive decades-long distrust of the United States that reached a fever pitch when George W. Bush refused to back the Kyoto Protocol that the Clinton administration signed in 1998.
Meanwhile, major corporations are also weighing in.
Jessica Uhl, Shell’s chief financial officer, underscored the company’s support for the Paris agreement on Thursday, saying it’s the “right path forward for society.” Asked if the company has discussed the issue with the Trump administration, Uhl said: “I think Mr. Trump has enough advisers but we certainly do engage with the administration to ensure that we can grow our business appropriately in the U.S., which is a very important market for us, and influence where appropriate.”
Other companies — including ExxonMobil, which Tillerson led for more than a decade as CEO — have also called on Trump to remain in the agreement.