Trashing the Paris Agreement made for a great campaign prop at Donald Trump’s rallies, where the climate change accord was portrayed as a product of the out-of-touch, insufferable elites that Trump pledged to sweep from power.
Now the landmark agreement, signed under President Obama, is fast becoming a nuisance for President Trump’s White House.
It is putting the president under increasing pressure from places he may not have expected. His own secretary of State appears to see little upside in the president following through on the signature campaign vow to scrap it. His ambassador to the United Nations is hedging. And titans of industries that Trump promised would be unleashed to create new jobs once freed from the agreement’s constraints are openly hostile to Trump’s plan to put it through the shredder.
Even the American Coal Council has yet to muster a tepid cheer for Trump’s denunciations of the United Nations-sponsored climate plan. As for the power companies Trump warned would be forced by Paris to raise their rates trillions of dollars? Their trade group, the Edison Electric Institute, doesn’t even have a position on the agreement.
The reticence toward Trump’s tough talk about the nearly 200-nation accord reflects how much has changed in perceptions of the global warming threat since the White House was last occupied by a president disdainful of international efforts to contain it.
CEOs have grown more panicked about the impact global warming will have on business stability than the cost of confronting it. And it is not just Ben and Jerry’s types that have already invested a tremendous amount in redirecting their entire business model to account for climate.
Outside the confines of Trump campaign rallies, the offices of a few free market think tanks and the tea party stalwarts in Congress, the broader consensus is that abandoning Paris won’t save trillions of dollars, as Trump promised, but hurt the economy.
Exxon Mobil is all in on Paris, which aims to contain global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial-age levels; so are DuPont, Unilever and Monsanto, the multinational genetically engineered food juggernaut that often tangles with the environmental movement. Half of the companies on the Fortune 500 already have greenhouse gas reduction plans in place.
“This is directly related to our business,” said Gabriela Burian, director of global sustainable agriculture at Monsanto. “We need to provide solutions while farmers are facing climate change.”
Monsanto is on track to be carbon neutral by 2021 and has long accepted as fact something the Trump administration has not: that absent swift action, human-induced climate change could be catastrophic for business. It was among the more than 745 companies and big investors that signed a post-election letter expressing full support for the accord. The signatories collectively employ more than 1.8 million Americans.
Many Republican heavyweights are meanwhile sending a clear signal to the White House that their dislike of the Clean Power Plan — the Obama administration’s blueprint for meeting America’s obligations under the climate pact — should not be confused with support for Trump’s repudiation of all climate action.
A group of GOP gurus that includes former Secretaries of State James A. Baker and George P. Shultz, former Secretary of the Treasury Henry M. Paulson, and lead economic advisors for Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush visited the White House last week to implore the administration to approach climate policy the way it appears to be dealing with Obamacare. Repealing the Obama climate plan and replacing it with nothing, they warned, is a perilous path.
The group lobbied for a tax on carbon, a climate change solution long championed by economists across political boundaries — and one this particular group noted would enable the United States to meet the obligations laid out in Paris.
“The risks are too great to ignore,” Baker, a longtime climate skeptic himself, said of climate change. “We need some sort of insurance policy.”
The Paris accord doesn’t set particularly onerous standards on U.S. emissions. The boom in natural gas production, plunging prices of wind and solar power and evolution of energy-efficient technologies — along with the embrace of sustainability by American businesses — has the U.S. well on its way to meeting its goals under the pact. Unlike Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which sets very strict rules for how electric plants can operate, the accord is a broader pledge to take a leadership role in the climate fight.
“If we don’t decide to participate, it is still moving forward,” said Gina McCarthy, who ran the Environmental Protection Agency when Obama signed the accord. “We are simply going to cede those opportunities to other countries.”
China has already made clear it is prepared to step into the breach, reaffirming its commitment last month at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland, where President Xi Jinping unveiled a plan to invest $360 billion in renewables and suspend production of 101 coal plants.
“Donald Trump is used to winning things, not walking away like a scalded dog,” said Bob Inglis, a former GOP congressman from South Carolina. “Leaving a very hard won international agreement on the table so China can lead the world would be a strange look.”
Trump may opt to leave the agreement in place and instead move to aggressively erase the federal emissions rules it inspired. But that approach is certain to generate more blowback than Trump may have anticipated.
“The reason the Paris accord got signed is because so many companies wanted this,” said Andrew Hoffman, professor at University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. “They are moving on this stuff, and the policies of one administration are not going to radically shift their direction.”
The companies want to operate on a level playing field, with predictable rules. In some cases, major investors have threatened to pull their money out of firms that hedge on climate action; firms, in turn, are looking to government to guide them in their efforts.
When Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich recently blocked his state legislature’s plan to suspend green energy mandates, Nestle, Whirlpool and Gap sent a public thank-you note lauding his “courage and conviction.”
Trump still may move to scrap the Paris agreement. Some in Washington suspect he is waiting until his nominee to lead the EPA, climate skeptic Scott Pruitt, gets confirmed. But it hasn’t gone without notice that the frenetic new administration has waited this long.
“Maybe this isn’t as big a bogeyman to them as other things are,” said Mindy Lubber, president of Ceres, a large coalition of businesses and nonprofits engaged in climate advocacy. “They know how to take immediate action. They aren’t taking it.”
Times Staff Writer Chris Megerian contributed to this report from Sacramento.
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