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Trump is poised to withdraw from Paris climate pact — unless he changes his mind

Trump is poised to withdraw from Paris climate pact — unless he changes his mind
The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power-operated RE Cinco Solar Facility in Kern County. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Indications from White House officials that President Trump was heading toward pulling the U.S. out of the Paris accord on climate change set off a worldwide reaction Wednesday, continuing the public drama around a decision that has been agonized and untidy even by the standards of a White House known for palace intrigue.

The day began with officials telling news organizations that Trump had settled on pulling out of the climate agreement, generating a reaction in which people around the world jumped in to try to influence or spin his decision, from European leaders to the coal industry to the state of California.

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That offered a foretaste of the reaction Trump likely will receive if he does follow through on his vow to pull the United States out of the 195-signatory pact, which President Obama hailed in 2015 as one of his major achievements.

Already, other nations have moved to take over the leadership role on climate that the United States would be abandoning. Some states have followed suit, promising they would break with Washington to work with other countries in their efforts to contain global warming.

"It cannot stand; it's not right," California Gov. Jerry Brown said of the potential Trump move away from the agreement.

"California will do everything it can not only to stay the course but to build more support in other states, other provinces and with other countries," the Democratic governor, who has played a leading role on the issue, said in an interview.

All the public lobbying moved Trump to weigh in himself. In a Twitter message, he knocked down the early reports that he had already decided to withdraw. Later, he told reporters at a White House event that he would make a decision "very soon."

"I'm hearing from a lot of people, both ways. Both ways," he said.

White House officials were still scrambling to map out options this week. One possibility, backed by Trump's most conservative advisors, would be to fully withdraw from the agreement.

Another option would be to keep the U.S. involved, but have Trump announce that he will cut back the U.S. commitment to take action against climate change. The latter option is favored by some advisors, who say it would maintain a U.S. seat in worldwide climate negotiations while still allowing Trump to declare he has kept his promise to scrap the deal.

The debate over the Paris agreement has split Trump's administration. Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt and White House strategist Stephen K. Bannon have advocated withdrawing from the agreement, arguing that if the U.S. remains part of the accord, environmental groups might be able to use it to shield Obama administration policies on global warming that the current administration opposes. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Trump's daughter and advisor Ivanka Trump have argued for staying with the agreement in some fashion.

On Trump's trip to Europe last week, he was heavily lobbied by allied leaders to keep the U.S. part of the accord.

If Trump does withdraw the U.S. fully from the Paris pact, scientists warn it will be a significant setback to the worldwide effort to prevent temperatures from rising by more than an average of 2 degrees Celsius (or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels. The consequences for the United States would extend beyond global warming.

"It will be a very big deal all over the world," said Todd Stern, the lead U.S. climate negotiator during the Obama administration. "There will be consequential blowback with respect to our diplomatic position across the board."

The European Union and China moved quickly to signal that they will persist in the climate fight, regardless of what the United States does. They are expected to reaffirm their commitment to the Paris agreement at a meeting Friday in Brussels between EU Council President Donald Tusk, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.

Whatever Trump decides, "we expect that the EU and China will adopt this statement and press ahead," said a European official familiar with the preparations for the summit, speaking anonymously in accordance with EU practice.

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The prime ministers of Spain and India emerged from talks in Madrid to announce they were unwavering in their commitment. And European diplomats are raising the prospect that climate-related trade sanctions against the U.S. could be on the horizon.

China and the EU would be eager to fill the leadership vacuum created by a U.S. exit, as they aggressively reorient their economies around green energy and look to exert greater global influence on its expansion.

"Our climate action strategy represents an opportunity to attract investment, innovation and develop new green technologies," European Parliament President Antonio Tajani said in a statement. "We have got the talent and the will to make this possible in all sectors."

U.S. companies anxious about the prospect of withdrawal have been warning Trump against it. Most large firms, including the big oil and gas companies Trump says would get a boost from withdrawal, have encouraged the president to stay in the pact.

Silicon Valley billionaire Elon Musk, who has faced heated criticism from progressives for serving on White House advisory councils, wrote on Twitter that he will have "no choice" but to resign that role if Trump quits Paris.

The last time the U.S. pulled out of such a pact was at the start of the presidency of George W. Bush, who withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol. The move was met with international condemnation. But exiting from the Paris agreement would be far more significant, as the pact has broader international buy-in.

Democrats and environmentalists warned that an exit from the Paris accord would be reckless and ultimately hurt the U.S. Some noted that no other country has said it would join the U.S. in withdrawing or reducing its commitment. Only two nations, Nicaragua and Syria, have declined to join the Paris agreement.

"Breaking our commitment to the Paris climate agreement will leave our country isolated and ill-prepared for the challenges we face," Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California said in a statement.

The process of fully leaving the agreement is complicated and could take several years. It would not be until October 2020, near the end of Trump's current term, that the United States could fully withdraw under the terms of the deal.

An alternative, more drastic, route would be to pull out of the United Nations Framework on Climate Change, which the Paris agreement is built on top of. The U.S. joined the framework in 1992. Withdrawing from it could be difficult, however, because, unlike the Paris agreement, the framework was considered a treaty and was ratified by the Senate.

As Trump mulls what to do, California and several other states with robust clean energy policies are putting out word they will only intensify their climate efforts, which combined would have more impact on climate change than the steps taken by most of the nations that have signed the Paris accord.

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That is a point not lost on European nations.

"If they decide to pull out, it would be disappointing, but I really don't think this would change the course of mankind," said European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic. He noted that city, state and business leaders across the U.S. recognize the economic opportunities presented by increasing production of renewable energy and transitioning economies to cleaner technologies.

Gov. Brown, who is leading a large coalition of countries, states and cities that have pledged to confront climate change even more aggressively than is called for by the Paris accord, has repeatedly emphasized that economic case for combating climate change. He will cement his role as the de facto leader of U.S. climate efforts while in China next week to attend the coalition's summit.

And even as the White House mapped out its possible exit strategy Wednesday, the California state Senate was passing a bill that would move the state to 100% renewable energy by 2045.

"Trump is going against science. He's going against reality," the governor said. "We can't stand by and give aid and comfort to that."

Times staff writer John Myers in Sacramento contributed to this report.

Twitter: @evanhalper

Twitter: @alexzavis

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