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Trump quits the Paris climate accord, denouncing it as a violation of U.S. sovereignty

The U.S. will pull out of the Paris accord on global warming, President Trump announced Thursday, offering a statement of unabashed nationalism as he turned away from a global leadership role in the fight against climate change.

“It is time to put Youngstown, Ohio, Detroit, Mich., and Pittsburgh, Pa., … before Paris, France,” Trump declared to an audience of administration officials and supporters in the White House Rose Garden.

The climate agreement would “undermine our economy, hamstring our workers, weaken our sovereignty … and put us at a permanent disadvantage to the other countries of the world,” he said. “It is time to exit the Paris accord.”

The move will not fully take effect for almost four years, under the terms of the agreement, increasing the likelihood that the fate of the climate accord will be an issue in the next presidential election.

In the interim, Trump said, he hopes to negotiate a new agreement “on terms that are fair to the United States.”

That’s not likely to be easy. In advance of the announcement, world leaders lobbied Trump heavily to stay in the Paris deal and repeatedly announced their intentions to stick with the terms that were agreed to in Paris in 2015 after years of laborious negotiations.

A spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, responding to Trump, said she regretted the U.S. decision and would continue to work to “save our Earth.”

In a separate joint statement with the leaders of France and Italy, Merkel said the agreement “cannot be renegotiated.”

French President Emmanuel Macron said Trump had made "an error for the future of his country and his people and a mistake for the future of the planet.”

Trump lashed out at foreign leaders in his statement, saying they supported the agreement because it was a “massive redistribution of United States wealth to other countries.”

The climate deal was “less about the climate and more about other countries gaining a financial advantage over the United States,” he said, adding that “we don't want other leaders and other countries laughing at us anymore, and they won't be.”

The president said the accord would allow China, India and other major polluters to continue emitting greenhouse gases while imposing unfair burdens on the U.S., and it would cost millions of American jobs.

The raw deal for the country that Trump described contrasts sharply with the view of many Republican business leaders, who had lobbied the White House against making this move. They and other supporters of action to combat climate change say that policies designed to limit global warming are helping the U.S. economy by building up new industries, especially solar and wind power.

The agreement, which almost every country in the world has joined, is designed to cut emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in order to keep temperatures from rising by more than 2 degrees Celsius compared with pre-industrial levels. That’s the point at which scientists warn the impact of climate change worldwide would be severe.

How much the U.S. leaving the accord will impede achievement of that goal remains to be seen. Technological and economic changes have steadily made solar and wind power less expensive, and the U.S. was already on a path toward meeting the commitments made in Paris amid the boom in electricity from natural gas and the plunge in prices for solar and wind power.

“The nations that remain in the Paris Agreement will be the nations that reap the benefits in jobs and industries created,” former President Obama said in a statement responding to Trump’s announcement.

“But even in the absence of American leadership; even as this Administration joins a small handful of nations that reject the future; I’m confident that our states, cities, and businesses will step up and do even more to lead the way, and help protect for future generations the one planet we’ve got,” he said.

When the agreement was signed, Obama had hailed it as one of his major accomplishments.

Despite the trends in technology, the departure of the world’s biggest economy is certain to disrupt international plans to combat global warming. The U.S. will now join the only two other nations that refused to sign on, Syria and Nicaragua. The Central American nation complained that the accord wasn’t stringent enough.

The move may also harm the growing U.S. clean-energy industry, which may now see China and Europe take the lead in developing advanced technologies.

That prospect drew dismayed reactions from the heads of some of country’s largest companies.

“Disappointed with today’s decision on the Paris Agreement. Climate change is real. Industry must now lead and not depend on government,” Jeff Immelt, the chairman and chief executive of General Electric, said in a Twitter message.

Elon Musk, the head of Tesla, and Walt Disney Co. chief Robert Iger announced they were withdrawing from a White House advisory council on manufacturing.

The most immediate impact of Trump’s decision will hit some of the world’s poorest countries. Billions of dollars the U.S. had committed to a fund to help developing countries cope with the impacts of global warming won’t be delivered.

“These countries are interested in participating in this agreement, but it is not clear how much they can do without that assistance,” said Jonathan Pershing, special envoy for climate change during the Obama administration.

The affected countries include island nations confronting rising sea levels and African countries combating drought-induced famine.

Trump depicted the climate fund as an unacceptable and unfair drain on the American treasury.

“Billions of dollars that ought to be invested right here in America will be sent to the very countries that have taken our factories and our jobs away from us,” Trump said.

Outside economists have said the cost to the U.S. of staying in the accord would have been minimal, as it allowed flexibility to adjust targets. Keeping the treaty intact would not have prevented the administration from rolling back some of Obama’s ambitious domestic climate programs, they said.

But some conservatives and administration officials eager to quit the agreement warned Trump that environmental activists could use it to block the administration from its efforts to dismantle Obama’s policies.

Trump’s decision to isolate the United States from the global climate fight could have many ripple effects. Reluctant participants in the pact, notably Russia, could opt to pull out as well.

The lengthy withdrawal process mandated by the terms of the agreement gave a measure of hope to environmental activists and their allies that the damage to the climate fight can ultimately be contained — either by an eventual change of heart by Trump if public pressure mounts, or by a change of leadership in the White House.

“The Americans can't just get out of the agreement," European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said at an event in Berlin on Wednesday, in anticipation of Trump’s action. At last week’s summit of the leaders of the world’s largest economic powers, “we tried to explain this in clear, simple sentences to Mr. Trump," Juncker said, but "it looks like that attempt failed."

“Not everything that is written in international agreements is fake news," he added.

The bitter tone reflects how Trump’s action is likely to chill diplomatic relations on matters that extend beyond climate action.

“The U.S. traditionally has taken seriously its international pledges, even the nonbinding ones, and has tried to induce other countries to do that,” said Michael Gerrard, director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University.

Dropping out of such a commitment “makes it very hard for the U.S. to press other countries to fulfill international commitments in all areas, not just climate,” he said.

While most other big countries are expressing resolve to stick with the agreement, supporters worry that if the U.S. stays out for more than a few years, that resolve will erode.

“It is hard to sustain an effort like this over a long period of time without the United States,” said Todd Stern, who helped negotiate the accord for the Obama administration. “Countries are going to stay in for the short run and hope for different politics in the White House before long.”

On Capitol Hill, most reaction fell along predictable partisan lines, but some showed how the climate issue could reshape politics in certain parts of the country.

Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), whose constituents have been dealing with repeated flooding associated with rising sea levels, called Trump’s decision “a strategic mistake and something that really sets us back.”

“Down here in South Florida we understand that the environment and the economy are one and the same,” he said.

On the other side of the ledger, Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, a Democrat representing a state long associated with coal mining, said that “while I believe that the United States and the world should continue to pursue a cleaner energy future, I do not believe that the Paris Agreement ensures a balance between our environment and the economy.”

In California and other liberal states where renewable energy has been aggressively embraced, plans are already afoot to usurp the role the White House is abandoning.

Even though states cannot individually join the accord, they are stepping up goals for emissions reductions and forging climate agreements with like-minded counterparts in other countries.

“California will resist this misguided and insane course of action,” California Gov. Jerry Brown said in a statement. He and the governors of New York and Washington announced they had formed a new United States Climate Alliance to guide states committed to reaching the climate goals agreed to in Paris.

Mayors of 50 cities, including Los Angeles and New York, also pledged that they would adhere to the commitments made by the Obama administration. Among them was the mayor of Pittsburgh, which Trump had singled out.

“It's now up to cities to lead,” the city’s mayor, Bill Peduto, said.

Halper reported from Washington and Zavis from Los Angeles. Times staff writers Brian Bennett and Lisa Mascaro in Washington contributed to this report.

evan.halper@latimes.com

Twitter: @evanhalper

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UPDATES:

5:30 p.m.: This story has been updated to indicate Walt Disney Co. chief Robert Iger has also quit a White House advisory council on manufacturing.

4:20 p.m.: The story was updated with new information.

2:35 p.m.: The story was updated with statements from Jeff Immelt and Elon Musk and a joint statement by the German, French and Italian governments.

2 p.m.: The story was updated with a statement from German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

1:20 p.m.: The story was updated with additional quotes from President Trump and a statement from former President Obama.

12:46 p.m.: The story was updated with quotes from President Trump’s statement.

12:20 p.m.: The story was updated with quotes from the administration’s talking points.

The story was originally published at 12:10 p.m.

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