WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is preparing the formal withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Agreement on climate change, according to three people briefed on the matter, a long expected move that nevertheless remains a powerful signal to the world.
The official action sets in motion a withdrawal that still would take a year to complete under the rules of the accord. Abandoning the landmark 2015 agreement in which nearly 200 nations vowed to reduce planet-warming emissions would fulfill one of President Trump’s key campaign promises while placing the world’s largest economy at odds with the rest of the globe on a top international policy priority.
Mr. Trump is expected to celebrate leaving the Paris agreement when he speaks at a natural gas conference organized by the Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry trade group, on Wednesday afternoon. The event is in Pittsburgh, a city he specifically referenced when he declared in a 2017 Rose Garden speech his intention to leave the international agreement. At that time, he proclaimed he was elected to represent “the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.”
A spokesman for the State Department declined to say whether the agency has drafted its notice to the United Nations that will start the yearlong clock before the United States can officially separate itself from the global effort to curb global warming.
But in a statement the agency said, “The U.S. position on the Paris Agreement has not changed. The United States intends to withdraw from the Paris Agreement.”
Under the rules of the Paris Agreement, Nov. 4 is the earliest date on which the Trump administration can submit a written notice to the United Nations that it is withdrawing. It would go into effect exactly one year later. That could make the yearlong countdown a central issue in the coming presidential campaign.
The Paris Agreement is essentially a collection of voluntary emissions-slashing pledges from about 200 nations. Countries are not legally bound to meet their targets, but they are obligated to report their progress to the United Nations.
The United States under the Obama administration pledged to cut emissions about 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. Mr. Trump has previously said his administration will no longer work toward that target, and the State Department has failed for more than two years to submit documents showing what the United States is doing to reduce emissions.
The Trump administration also has taken actions to limit states’ abilities to cut their own emissions, recently revoking a waiver that California had under the Clean Air Act to set automobile tailpipe pollution standards at stricter levels than the federal government. On Wednesday it also sued California to block part of a regional greenhouse gas emission program that included Quebec, arguing the agreement violates the constitutional prohibition on states making their own treaties or agreements with foreign governments.
At various points since Mr. Trump vowed to leave the Paris Agreement, which he has called “job-killing” and “a bad deal,” he has hinted at the possibility of staying in if he could renegotiate better terms.
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But the administration never made serious efforts to discuss with other countries what precise terms of the voluntary pact it would want to revisit. The handful of administration officials who had pressed Mr. Trump to remain in the agreement, such as Gary D. Cohn, the former director of the National Economic Council, and Rex W. Tillerson, the former secretary of state, have left and been replaced by fierce opponents of the accord.
According to three current and former administration officials, who asked not to be named because they were not authorized to discuss administration briefings, the White House has not wavered in its plans to send the formal notice of withdrawal to the United Nations and is only internally discussing whether to do it at the earliest possible moment or wait.
Malik Russell, a spokesman for The Climate Mobilization, a youth-led environmental advocacy group, called the decision “insanity” and at odds with popular opinion.
“Just a few weeks ago we had millions of people around the world and in the United States hit the streets at a global climate strike,” he said. “We had students walking out of schools, we had a meeting at the United Nations to address the climate emergency.” He added, “This is really a betrayal of the next generation.”
Mandy Gunasekara, a former senior adviser at the Environmental Protection Agency under Mr. Trump who now runs Energy 45 Fund, a pro-Trump advocacy group, said she visits a different America, where people view a global agreement led by the United Nations as an infringement on American sovereignty.
Leaving the accord, she said, “is celebrated by your average Trump supporter.” Ms. Gunasekara also dismissed the Paris Agreement as an ineffectual effort to curb emissions.
“The Paris Agreement is for those who want to stand behind a piece of paper without doing anything meaningful,” she said. “The United States will continue to be an environmental leader where it matters, through actions.”
Fossil fuel emissions in the United States did fall significantly between 2005 and 2018, a decline that the Trump administration has taken credit for. But energy analysts argue the drop primarily stemmed from the emergence of cheap natural gas and affordable renewable energy, which displaced dirtier coal-fired power. That is at odds with the Trump administration’s efforts to revive the struggling coal industry.
And the trend might be reversing. Emissions increased 2.7 percent in 2018 according to the latest figures from the Energy Information Administration.
The Paris Agreement announcement would come on the heels of a declaration by Mick Mulvaney, Mr. Trump’s acting chief of staff, that climate change — a mainstay topic at international gatherings for years — will not be formally discussed at the Group of 7 summit in the United States in June. So far the international reaction has been muted, but activists said it is not likely to remain so.
“At a time when popular frustration with inaction on climate change is at an all-time high, especially with the youth, the pressure is going to be very high on other global leaders to stand up to Trump about not even discussing climate at the G7,” said Andrew Light, a senior fellow at the World Resources Institute and a former State Department senior adviser on climate change in the Obama administration.
If the Trump administration sends the Paris Agreement notice on Nov. 4, the American withdrawal will become official on the day after the presidential election in 2020. That means Mr. Trump, if he wins, will launch a second term with a major campaign promise fulfilled. Alternately, if a Democrat wins, he or she would have to wait until Jan. 20, 2021 in order to send a new notice to the United Nations of America’s intention to re-enter the deal.
“So,” Mr. Light said, “For the next year the United States just becomes this curiosity.”
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Lisa Friedman reports on climate and environmental policy in Washington. A former editor at Climatewire, she has covered nine international climate talks. @LFFriedman
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