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Jan Lee headshot

Are We In or Out? Trump Softens on Paris Climate Accord

By Jan Lee

For months, President Donald Trump vowed to "cancel" the United States’ participation in the Paris climate accord. The new president shared his thoughts about international agreements in campaign stump speeches, late-night tweets and White House press statements. He said the Paris agreement specifically gives "foreign bureaucrats control over how much energy we use" and, in his opinion, is "bad for U.S. business."

But while Trump may still have his reservations about whether an international commitment to lower carbon emissions is a good thing for the country, a growing number of companies and analysts are encouraging him to stay his hand – and keep America in Paris.

Paris climate accord: Big business speaks up

And they aren’t exclusively small businesses, either. Energy leaders like ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell and BP, which would appear to have more to lose than to gain economically from a climate accord, are now speaking up and encouraging Trump to keep a seat at the negotiations table.

“U.S. leadership could take the world into a new era of global economic prosperity that also addresses concerns about climate and emissions,” Colin Marshall, president of Cloud Peak Energy, wrote in a recent letter to the president.

Although Marshall seems fine with less aggressive commitments from the U.S.: “By remaining in the Paris agreement, albeit with a much different pledge on emissions, you can help shape a more rational international approach to climate policy.”

For their part, BP, Exxon and Shell say that with the increasing access to natural gas, the U.S. would be better off turning its sights toward resources and policies that help reduce carbon emissions.

“[We] believe it’s possible to provide the energy the world needs while also addressing the climate challenge,” BP spokesperson Geoff Morrell wrote in an email.

Not all companies are supportive of this approach, however. Robert Murray, founder of Murray Energy, said companies backing U.S. participation in the climate deal are “squandering” the country’s opportunity to “low-cost” power generation.

On Tuesday, the Trump administration said it was keeping an “open mind” toward whether to stay in the Paris accord. Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, her husband Jared Kushner (an advisor to the president) and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson are reportedly urging the president to stay in the agreement. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt and Trump’s senior advisor Steve Bannon feel the country should exit.

Last week, members of the G-7 signaled a hopeful gesture that the U.S. may still decide to participate in the Paris accord when they delayed offering the customary joint statement at the end of their two-day meeting. The media blamed the U.S. for “scuttling” the G-7's talk on climate change, which members normally conclude with a joint affirmation. U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry said the U.S. is still “reviewing” its policies regarding climate change and has not yet said whether it will join in the statement.

Campaign promises, presidential realities

If Trump accepts the energy companies' advice and chooses to stay at the table, it will signal yet another change for an administration that won electoral votes at the polls based on his promises to stand up for big business.

Ironically, though, it’s those very businesses that are able to see the value in international cooperation and in keeping an ear at a table that could very well determine tomorrow’s markets.

And those who are advocating for staying in the accord know that canceling U.S. participation isn’t going to slow global efforts to reduce carbon emissions. It will only ensure that the U.S., once a leader in this effort, isn’t consulted.

"Europe will now be looking to China to make sure that it is not alone," an EU official told Reuters last February when Trump was entertaining dropping out of the accord.

That’s an idea that would be hard to stomach for an administration that knows its top competitor in renewable energy could ultimately become the go-to for global energy policies.

For Trump, however, the Paris climate accord represents yet another portion of a huge first-term learning curve. Campaign promises and bold statements may sound great to potential voters, but according to his biggest supporters, it’s the solid strategies that allow countries to get along peaceably together that may work out the best for everyone.

Wikimedia image: Donald Perovich/US Army

Jan Lee headshot

Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.

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