The Global Reaction to Trump's Climate-Change Decision

Nations like China and India remain committed to the Paris climate change agreement—with or without the U.S.

Trump speaks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the G7 Summit in Taormina, Italy. (Andrew Medichini / AP)

The Trump administration’s reported announcement that it is withdrawing from the Paris climate change agreement has prompted nations and world leaders to reiterate their commitment to the global pact. Signed in 2015 during the Obama administration, the Paris Agreement is an unprecedented global climate deal that aims to contain greenhouse gas emissions and protect the world against global warming. Only two countries—Nicaragua and Syria—declined to sign the agreement in 2015.

At the G7 Summit last week in Italy, many world leaders encouraged President Trump to remain a member of the pact, with foreign diplomats reportedly holding conversations with members of the Trump administration in hopes of getting the president to change his mind. On Wednesday morning, the United Nations reiterated this plea, tweeting a quote from its Secretary General, António Guterres: “Climate action is undeniable. Climate change is unstoppable. Climate solutions provide opportunities that are unmatchable.” Even Pope Francis hinted at his desire for the U.S. to remain part of the agreement when he handed Trump a signed copy of his work chronicling the need to combat human-driven climate change during Trump’s visit to the Vatican.

On Wednesday morning, White House officials confirmed that Trump planned to leave the Paris Agreement, though some still argue a decision has yet to be made. Trump’s staff was reportedly divided on the matter, with Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson suggesting he stay, while EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, chief strategist Steve Bannon, and White House counsel Don McGahn pushed for an exit. Last week, 22 U.S. senators also wrote a letter to Trump encouraging the president to withdraw from the pact, arguing that it could legally prevent him from rescinding the Clean Power Plan—another Obama-era global warming initiative.

Late Wednesday evening, Trump tweeted that he would announce his decision Thursday at 3:00 p.m. at the White House Rose Garden. Trump previously stated on the campaign trail that he would exit the Paris Agreement. In the past, he has referred to global warming as a “hoax.” According to Axios, which was first to report the news that Trump is planning to withdraw, the administration is debating whether to formally exit the pact—a process that could take several years—or simply leave the UN climate change treaty that negotiated the Paris Agreement—a speedier, but more controversial, process.

Regardless of whether Trump stays, most foreign governments are committed to honoring the pact. In March, a spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry said that all members of the Paris Agreement should “fulfill their commitments,” adding that China would do the same “regardless of how other countries’ climate policies change.” Two months later, the ministry said that Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke with the president of France, Emmanuel Macron, about how the nations “should protect the achievements of global governance, including the Paris agreement.” With the U.S. likely to leave the pact, China aims to be the world’s foremost leader on combatting climate change.

According to the EU’s climate commissioner, Miguel Arias Cañete, the EU and China have formed a new alliance in response to Trump’s impending decision. The nations “are joining forces to forge ahead on the implementation of the Paris Agreement and accelerate the global transition to clean energy,” Cañete told The Guardian on Wednesday. As part of their joint efforts, China and the EU have expressed their “highest political commitment” to the agreement, and are encouraging all signatories to do the same.

“For Europe there is no plan B, because we do not have a plan B,” Maroš Šefčovič, the vice president of the EU’s Energy Union, told reporters last week. The president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, had harsher words to share on Wednesday, informing members at a student conference that “Europe’s duty is to say … The Americans can’t just leave the climate protection agreement. Mr. Trump believes that because he doesn’t know the details.” Juncker added that European leaders tried to explain the ramifications of leaving the agreement to Trump, but couldn’t get through to the president. “Not everything in international agreements is fake news,” Juncker said.

While India was reluctant to join the Paris Agreement in 2015, the nation has also reiterated its commitment to the pact. India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, met with the prime minister of Spain, Mariano Rajoy, on Wednesday, where both countries said they would remain signatories. Canada’s environment minister, Catherine McKenna, has also confirmed the nation is committed to the agreement. “Canada is going to show leadership with China and the EU and we certainly hope the U.S. will be joining us,” McKenna said recently. As late as Wednesday, Peter Altmaier, the chief of staff for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, remained optimistic that Trump could be convinced to stay. “As far as I can see, it is an ongoing debate within the administration,” Altmaier said.

While Trump’s decision may not affect whether nations choose to remain in the Paris Agreement, it could affect whether signatories are held accountable. In the absence of U.S. oversight, nations may be less inclined to transparently report their greenhouse gas emissions. Other experts argue that Trump’s decision could weaken the authority of the U.S. on the global stage. “From a foreign policy perspective, it’s a colossal mistake—an abdication of American leadership,” Nicholas Burns, a senior official for the Bush administration, told The New York Times. “I can’t think of anything more destructive to our credibility than this.”