Is Trump coming back to the Paris climate agreement? Five reasons you shouldn’t hold your breath
Donald Trump’s interview with Piers Morgan, broadcast last night on ITV, has got people speculating once again that he could be considering a thoroughly characteristic change of heart.
“First of all, it was a terrible deal for the US. If they made a good deal there’s always a chance we’d get back. But it was a terrible deal for the US. It was unfair to the US,” he said. “I believe in clean air. I believe in crystal-clear, beautiful … I believe in just having good cleanliness in all. Now, with that being said, if somebody said go back into the Paris accord, it would have to be a completely different deal because we had a horrible deal.”
“As usual, they took advantage of the US. We were in a terrible deal. Would I go back in? Yeah, I’d go back in. I like, as you know, I like Emmanuel [Macron]. I would love to, but it’s got to be a good deal for the US.”
The article below, originally written in September 2017, explains why the United States under a Donald Trump presidency isn’t coming back to the Paris climate agreement. Nothing in the Morgan interview makes me think it’s any less true than it was then.
The original piece continues below.
At the end of May, President Donald Trump dropped the king of all diplomatic clangers by announcing that the USA would pull out of the Paris climate agreement. Unfortunately for Trump, the mechanisms for doing so aren’t as easy as firing make-believe businesspeople on The Apprentice – just saying the words doesn’t end America’s commitment to keeping the planet more or less habitable.
There are a number of routes Trump could take to get the US out of the deal, but as I wrote in the link above, none of them are particularly easy – and the quickest option involves a diplomatic bombshell that would make the initial announcement seem like a picnic. The easiest doesn’t involve actual withdrawal until 2020, when Trump will be facing reelection – and probably against somebody keen to make climate change a more salient campaigning issue.
So could Trump be on the verge of another of his famous U-turns? Over the weekend, reports emerged that the US is willing to look again at the Paris Climate Accord. “The president said he is open to finding those conditions where we can remain engaged with others on what we all agree is still a challenging issue,” secretary of state Rex Tillerson told CBS. “So I think the plan is for Director Cohn [Trump’s economic advisor] to consider other ways in which we can work with partners in the Paris climate accord. We want to be productive. We want to be helpful.”
Trump himself hasn’t responded directly to the report, continuing his love affair with the GIF on Twitter by retweeting one of him hitting Hillary Clinton with a golf ball (really), but a White House statement explained that nothing had changed in the government’s position.
This is actually pretty consistent. Even at the time of his original statement, a blasé Trump said that he would “see if we can make a deal that’s fair. And if we can, that’s great. And if we can’t, that’s fine.”
There have been other small reasons for optimism emerging. First up, back in July, French president Emmanuel Macron told Dimanche that Trump may be open-minded to reverse things. “(Trump) told me that he would try to find a solution in the coming months,” he told the paper. “We spoke in detail about the things that could make him come back to the Paris accord.”
Elsewhere, Richard Branson (who was once described by the president as having “zero personality and zero television persona”) thinks that Trump could backtrack now he’s seen the diplomatic consequences. “I’ve got a feeling that the president is regretting what he did,” he told an audience in Brooklyn. “Maybe his children and son in law are saying, ‘look, I told you so.’ Hopefully there is a positive change of mind.”
I don’t think that’s likely. I hope I’m wrong, but my gut feeling is that Trump won’t reverse his decision for a number of reasons that combine to form a perfect storm of stubbornness.
1) It isn’t an act: Trump doesn’t believe in climate change
It’s tempting to believe that Donald Trump’s posturing on climate change is a cynical ploy to fire up his base, but the evidence suggests his views are long-standing and sincere. Here are 53 tweets dating back to 2012 where he puts his science-illiterate cards firmly on the table.
And yes, he does seem to have softened his position a little since becoming president, but crucially only with receptive audiences. In other words…
2) He tells people what they want to hear
You know who also thought they’d had some success getting through to Trump? Al Gore, that’s who. Trump’s words spoken to one group are often wholly inconsistent with words said to another. Just compare his comments about Mexican immigrants to the speech he made when he actually visited the country.
So when President Macron reports that Trump said they’d try and find a solution in the coming months, I don’t doubt it happened. I just think Trump was opening his mouth and letting meaningless platitudes tumble out.
But even if Macron really did get through to Trump…
3) The president is influenced by the last person he listened to
There’s plenty of evidence that Donald Trump can have his mind easily changed. His aides allegedly plant news articles to send his train of thought down a particular track, he authorised the bombing of Syria on the basis of a single news item, and he initially changed his mind on Obamacare after a single meeting with the outgoing president.
The key word there is “initially”. You’ll note that Trump has reverted to type and now talks down the Affordable Care Act at every opportunity. Obama may have succeeded in changing his successor’s mind temporarily, but the vast majority of people the president talks to are Republican, and Republicans don’t like Obamacare.
Guess what else they don’t like?
4) The Republican Party is not a fan of climate change action
In fact, they’re one of the most climate change-sceptic on the planet. Trump’s cabinet pick for the Environmental Protection Agency doesn’t believe carbon dioxide is responsible for global warming. The White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy has no scientists left in it.
In this environment, with Trump as easily influenced as he is, who is going to speak up in support for America performing a hugely embarrassing U-turn?
Unless it was made less embarrassing, but…
5) To save face, Trump would need unlikely concessions
To be entirely fair to the president, when he announced that the US would be withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, he did say that there was room for negotiation. “We will start to negotiate, and we will see if we can make a deal that’s fair,” Trump said in the speech announcing the US’s intentions to withdraw. “And if we can, that’s great. And if we can’t, that’s fine.”
The trouble is that Trump’s main bone of contention is that the Paris Agreement is unfair to America – which also happens to be the second-largest polluter on the planet. Any kind of special dispensation to America could make the fragile deal unravel – and in any case, France, Germany and Italy have made a joint statement saying that the deal will not be changed for anyone.
Trump could still U-turn and claim concessions have been made when they haven’t, shouting “fake news” at anyone who disagrees, but given the other four points, it’s hard to picture a scenario where this is the hill he’s willing to die on.
All of this isn’t to say that the US will definitely pull out – as mentioned before, even the easiest option will see the country leaving the deal in the same month that it goes to the polls in 2020 – but an embarrassing flip-flop on this scale feels like a long shot, when it’s one of the few areas that Trump and his party are truly in sync.