Trump’s Tough Call on the Paris Climate Agreement Will Boil Down to Optics

Oftentimes, politicians are faced with important choices they have to make which, more often than not, were forced upon them by previous campaign statements or pledges. Now, President Trump is having one of those moments as he considers whether or not he should withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement.

On the campaign trail in 2016, Trump said, “we are going to cancel the Paris Climate Agreement…and stop all payments of the United States tax dollars to UN global warming programs.” While President Trump has made many other such statements before and after taking office, his administration has begun dropping hints that they may be backtracking that decision. And just this weekend, White House economic adviser Gary Cohn said that President Trump’s views on the Paris Climate Agreement were evolving.

What this means of course is yet to be seen but Trump himself took to Twitter this morning and promised that he would make a decision on the Paris Climate Agreement as soon as next week.

Trump faced intense pressure during his first foreign trip in Europe to support the Paris Climate Agreement. Not only did he receive a book on climate change from Pope Francis during his visit to the Vatican, but Trump was also the target of some intense lobbying during the G7 Summit in Sicily where the leaders of Germany, France, UK, Italy, Japan, and Canada tried convincing him of the merits of the pact.

Apparently, according to The Daily Signal, even big energy companies, like Exxon Mobil, Dutch Shell, and BP are advocating in favor of Trump keeping the US in the Paris Climate Agreement. Trump’s cabinet and advisers are apparently split with some like Ivanka Trump (his daughter) and James Mattis (Defense Secretary) supporting it while others are fiercely opposed to it like Stephen Bannon (White House strategist) and Scott Pruitt (EPA Administrator).

Historically, Trump has usually sided with the advice given by his daughter and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, in instances like the decision to attack Syria, thwarting an anti-LBGTQ proposal, and modifying some of the originally harsh language in one of Trump’s executive orders on climate change. On top of that, Trump may be especially eager to impress his new friends in Europe by keeping the US as a signatory of the Paris Climate Agreement. Of course, such an action would come at a political cost since such a move will very likely not sit well with most of Trump’s supporters.

But a deeper look at this proposal reveals a much simpler choice Trump has to make and that his choice will ultimately reflect what message he wants to send to Europe and supporters at the moment. To fully appreciate this statement, we must first dive deeper into the Paris Climate Agreement. In layman’s terms, the Paris Climate Agreement is an agreement between almost 200 nations to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2025.

The specific reduction amounts are not established and it is up to each nation to decide for themselves how much they will reduce and come up with a plan for reducing their emissions. Furthermore, developed industrialized nations (i.e.: the US)  are also required to contribute money to a few different climate change funds that supposedly assist developing nations in reducing their own  emissions. The one major caveat to this whole agreement however is that their is no enforcement mechanism. There are no penalties for any nation who doesn’t make any progress in reducing emissions or contributing to climate change funds.

Ultimately, the Paris Climate Agreement seems to be nothing more than an attempt by European and world leaders to look like they are taking a stand against climate change and working towards a solution. Bernie Sanders himself blasted the agreement in 2015 saying it didn’t go far enough because it was non-binding. This of course could also explain why some major energy companies like BP or Shell have no problem advocating for the agreement, aware that it really isn’t enforceable.

With this mind, Trump’s quagmire seems less dire and his decision will boil down to the optics of it. On the one hand, Trump can play the politician and decide to keep the US in the agreement. The upside is that he will somewhat placate many of US’s allies who want the nation to stay in the pact and will come across as a pragmatist (not that the media will actually give him any credit). But at the same time while signing the agreement, Trump can still ignore its ultimate responsibilities and not bring about the economic crisis that some say would happen if the agreement’s regulations were actually fully enforced.

On the other hand, Trump can keep his promise to his supporters and withdraw the United States. The decision may not sit well with many of America’s allies and will certainly undermine the Paris Climate Agreement even more. However, our allies have other more important reasons for collaboration including fighting terrorism and trade so in the long term, they will soon drop and forget Trump’s dissing of the Paris Climate Agreement. Furthermore, Trump can give his supporters the assurance that he is sticking to his populist creed he developed on the campaign trail. Should Trump keep the US in the Paris Climate Agreement, his supporters will feel he betrayed them, even though much of what they fear will actually not happen.

At the end of the day, Trump’s decision is going to show what his priorities are. Is he going to try to maintain the status quo and keep chummy with his new international acquaintances or will he stick to his anti-establishment course and reject the agreement as a message to his supporters that he still believes in “America First.” Ultimately, Trump will make that choice but personally, I suspect he will not withdraw the US from the agreement. Why? Because, first, it is always easy to maintain the status quo and with all the flak from the intolerant left over his “Russia ties”, I do not think Trump is seeking another major controversy. Secondly, many of his key advisers are leaning towards keeping the US in the agreement, especially his family members who seem to have a good hold on his ear. And lastly, Trump has just had a successful foreign trip and I don’t really see him in the mood for doing something that would make him seem lesser in those foreign leaders’ eyes. Not to mention the fact that Trump still doesn’t have to worry about an election for at least a couple of years.

Follow Publius Tacitus on Twitter at @PCTacitus

 

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