As UN climate talks prepare to resume in Bonn on Monday, records show the US state department has had little formal engagement with the process since Donald Trump assumed the presidency.
While U.S. representatives are in Bonn, Germany, next week for the U.N. talks, Trump’s advisers will meet Tuesday to discuss what to do about the global pact known as the Paris agreement, officials said. The conflicting signals suggested the administration was trying to keep its options open while Trump decides whether to withdraw, a move the international community would strongly oppose.
Though Trump’s inclination has been to leave the agreement, he’s allowed his daughter, White House adviser Ivanka Trump, to set up an extensive review process, a senior administration official said. The goal is to ensure Trump receives information from both government experts and the private sector before a making a decision.
To that end, Ivanka Trump will hold a separate meeting Tuesday with Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, the official said. Pruitt is a chief proponent of leaving the deal and has questioned the science that says humans are contributing to global warming.
And the decision to participate in next week’s U.N. climate talks shouldn’t be construed as a sign that Trump has decided to stay in the Paris pact, a State Department official added. To the contrary, the U.S. will be sending a “much smaller” delegation than it has in years past, the official said.
The officials weren’t authorized to discuss internal deliberations publicly and requested anonymity.
Under the Paris deal, brokered by former President Barack Obama and world leaders in 2015, nations agreed to non-binding pledges to cap or reduce emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases. The pact helped solidify a global consensus about addressing climate change that environmental groups worry may be undermined if the world’s largest economy withdraws.
“If the U.S. pulls out, it will be a pariah,” said Andrew Light, a climate adviser at the World Resources Institute. “It will be on the sidelines, and that’s going to hurt American businesses.”
Trump, as a candidate, threatened to “cancel” the deal, but since taking office has said he’s studying it and plans a final decision soon. U.S. officials say the timeline is being driven by the Group of 7 summit, which Trump will attend late this month in Italy. Trump needs to announce a decision before that summit so that leaders can determine whether and how to address climate change issues during the G-7.
The State Department official said that the U.S. was focused on ensuring that no decisions are made in Bonn next week “that would prejudice our future policy,” undermine competitiveness for American businesses or restrict U.S. economic growth.
The U.S. delegation will be led by Trigg Talley, the U.S. deputy special envoy for climate change. The Trump administration has left the special envoy role vacant after the official who held the position in the Obama administration departed.
Under the Paris deal, the U.S. committed to cut its emissions 26 percent to 28 percent by 2025, compared to 2005 levels. Since Trump took office, the U.S. has started deconstructing the set of regulations and climate policies that Obama put in place to help achieve the U.S. target.
But former Obama administration officials argue that because the targets are non-binding and can be updated, the Trump administration could remain in the Paris deal even if it acknowledges it will not achieve the 2025 target that Obama set. Though the agreement envisioned updated targets being more ambitious — not less — there’s nothing prohibiting a country from downgrading its targets, the Obama officials have said.
Even if Trump announces his intention to withdraw, the lengthy divorce process and other stipulations in the deal mean that the U.S. would remain in the pact at least until November 2020 — around the same date as the next U.S. presidential election.